Being one-dimensional can work, as long as that dimension is very, very good.
That seems to be the case with Ontario Hockey League defenseman Ryan Murphy
. A Kitchener Rangers teammate of Jeff Skinner
’s two seasons ago, Murphy, who led all league defensemen with 79 points (26g, 53a) in 63 regular-season games last season, has elite offensive skills that should translate to the NHL.
“His offensive ability is pretty special,” said Jason Karmanos, the Hurricanes’ vice president and assistant general manager. “He skates very well, has an extremely hard shot and projects as a power-play quarterback.”
In addition to his prowess with the man advantage, scouts also love Murphy’s skating and ability to beat opposing defenders in one-on-one situations with his shiftiness and quick hands. As far as scoring goes, he seems like a sure thing.
“He has had the type of production you rarely see among draft-eligible defensemen,” said Karmanos.
If Murphy is available to Carolina at No. 12 (most rankings have him higher), that will be due to other areas of his game. As of now, his defensive abilities are thought of as average at best, while his size (5-foot-11, 176 pounds), also isn’t cause for excitement.
While it’s clear that teams will draft him in the top 15 based on his scoring potential, that’s not to say he couldn’t overcome the knocks against him over time.
“He has to play a different kind of defensive game because of his size,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting. “It’s tougher for him to go head-to-head with a 6-foot-2, 210-pound winger. He’s not going to muscle him out of there, so he’s got to take a different approach.
“He has to be an angle-and-contain, body-position guy, and his skating allows him to recover and defend in situations where he might get trapped up ice.”
While he improved during the season and was able to learn and implement that style in junior hockey and international play, there are still uncertainties as to whether he projects as a reliable five-on-five player at the NHL level. While the two are different players – Murphy is more apt to lead the rush himself – that’s part of what made Cam Fowler, thought of as a near-consensus top five pick on draft day one year ago, fall all the way to 12.
That Fowler already has a full NHL season under his belt and looks like a potential steal could help Murphy’s cause, as will his strong finish to the season. Prior to an impressive showing for Canada at the World Under-18 Championship (he led his team with 13 points in seven games and was named the tournament’s Top Defenseman), Murphy paced Kitchener in playoff scoring with 11 points in 10 games – one more than potential No. 1 overall pick Gabriel Landeskog.
That has scouts hoping that he can become a more complete player rather than one who merely uses his strengths – no matter how prominent – to balance out his weaknesses.
“Every defenseman in the league has to learn how to play more of a containment-type game,” said Karmanos. “He’s figured that out at the junior level and the international level with his peers, so it would seem that in time he would be able to figure that out with the bigger, stronger players in the NHL.”