The last time Mike Murphy
posted a shutout, things didn’t go so well the next day.
On Valentine’s Day of this past season, the 21-year-old Albany River Rats goaltender was feeling supremely confident following his 27-save blanking of the Binghamton Senators one night earlier. That was when a Jay Harrison
slap shot during practice broke his hand, causing him to miss the rest of the reason.
”It was really bad timing, but I feel great now,” he said, acknowledging a little soreness after 18 holes of golf but nothing that would hinder his on-ice performance. “The doctors tell me I’ll probably have arthritis when I’m 40, but it doesn’t bother me at all when I’m playing.”
That was evident in his latest effort– a 33-save shutout of the New York Rangers’ entry at the Traverse City prospects tournament. Through two games, the Hurricanes’ 2008 fifth-round draft choice is tied for the tournament lead with a 1.00 goals-against average and ranks second with a .964 save percentage. According to General Manager Jim Rutherford, he was the main reason that the Canes were able to eke out the win over the Rangers with Zac Dalpe’s goal in the final minute.
Of course, that’s nothing new in this competition.
“He won the whole tournament for us last year,” said Rutherford, citing Murphy’s 3-0-0 record with one shutout in 2009. “He’s coming along very nicely in his development.”
Murphy, who will lead the Canes into their final round-robin game against Columbus at 6:30 p.m. today, will share goaltending duties with Justin Pogge in Charlotte of the AHL next season. That's more or less the norm for goaltenders of his age, particularly with an established starter like Cam Ward
already in the system. Rutherford sees Murphy following the Justin Peters
mold of steady year-to-year progression leading to a dominant minor-league season that would eventually force his hand.
”Any goalie that goes through a year like that is going to have a spot somewhere,” said Rutherford of Peters' 2009-10 All-Star season with Albany. “That’s really the biggest step that a goalie needs to take.”
While that door won’t open immediately for Murphy, Traverse City participants Zac Dalpe, Riley Nash and Jeff Skinner all have excellent chances of starting with the Hurricanes this season. Of the 20 players on the team’s roster, those three have stood out as expected.
”Those three guys have distinguished themselves from the rest of the camp,” said Rutherford.
It’s true that none have lit up the score sheet to this point – the Hurricanes have just two goals in two games, one by Dalpe and one by AHL forward Mike McKenzie. Rutherford sees that as a product of line combinations and strategy – the three have not played on the same unit – rather than a knock on any of their individual performances.
”The lines have been balanced a bit, which has taken away some of our ability to generate offense but gives us a better look at the whole roster,” he said. “We’ll get a better look at the top guys when they’re playing with veteran players at the big camp.”
Rutherford said that Skinner, the team’s first-round pick this past June, had an excellent first game and would have scored on at least one of his seven shots were it not for the outstanding play of Minnesota goaltender and former Plymouth Whaler Matt Hackett. However, his opportunities were limited against the Rangers.
“In the second game he got frustrated because teams are keying in on him and giving him a rough ride because they know who he is,” said Rutherford. “That’s something he’s going to have to learn to play through as he develops.”
Nonetheless, the Hurricanes have been pleased with his performance, as they have of Nash, who has displayed the trademark vision that made him a target of Associate Head Coach and Director of Player Development Ron Francis in the first place.
However, Dalpe has risen to the top.
“He’s been our best player,” said Rutherford of the 2008 second-round pick. “He’s had the best chance to prepare by playing some games with Albany at the end of last season and in the playoffs, but his size, skating ability and shot really stand out.”
If Dalpe can continue that in the team’s main training camp beginning this weekend, he may have the early edge in the race to start the season in the NHL. That could be at his more natural center-ice spot – an area of greatest need for the Hurricanes – or at the wing, which echoes Skinner’s positional eligibility.
While there could be a scenario where two or possibly even three of that group crack the roster, at this point, either one would appear to be a good choice.