In looking for the next Jeff Skinner, the Hurricanes went to the same place they discovered the first one.
Carolina chose defenseman Ryan Murphy with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, one year after it chose his Kitchener Rangers teammate, Skinner, five spots earlier. Skinner’s dream All-Star and Rookie of the Year season remains an extremely tough follow, but Murphy feels he’s up to the task.
“I’m a confident kid,” he said. “I’ve seen Jeff Skinner do it and I think, ‘Why can’t I do it as well?’”
Just minutes after his name was called, Murphy told the media that he had already received a message of congratulations from the reigning Calder Trophy winner who was in his shoes not long ago.
“It will be weird to play with him again,” said Murphy.
Murphy, the most talented offensive blueliner at the top of the draft, led the Ontario Hockey League in scoring by defensemen with 79 points (26g, 53a) last season. The 18-year-old also led Team Canada in scoring at the World Under-18 Championship with 13 points in seven games, taking home the tournament’s Top Defenseman award.
A great skater who likes to lead the rush and use his big shot, Murphy projects to be a power-play fixture at the next level.
“He’s just a special player,” said Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford. “He does a lot of things in junior that other players can’t do.”
Rutherford said that he expected some surprises in the top half of the draft’s first round, later confirming that he was not disappointed in that regard. Those surprises led to Murphy, ranked as the No. 9 North American skater by the NHL Central Scouting Service, falling to the Canes.
“We didn’t always expect it, but we’re very happy to get him,” said Rutherford.
Murphy also admitted to being somewhat surprised at his destination while being unsure of where he would go in the draft.
“I knew I was going to get drafted, and that is a pretty good success,” he said. “The number doesn’t matter.”
Before Murphy can emulate his former-teammate-turned-teammate-again, there are some areas he’ll need to address. First, he’ll need to add muscle to what the NHL lists as a 5-foot-10, 166-pound frame. That in turn will allow him to be a more well-rounded player that can contribute at even-strength play as well as the man advantage – an area in which even the most conservative pundits admit he has the skills to thrive.
The Hurricanes believe he can do those things, thanks in large part to conversations with Kitchener coach Steve Spott.
“Guys that play that style of game have to give something on the defensive side, but based on what we’ve seen and heard and the way he thinks the game, I have confidence that he can develop,” said Rutherford
In doing so, the Hurricanes won’t want him to lose sight of the reason they drafted him in the first place – his elite offensive skills.
“I’ve been fortunate that my coaches up until now haven’t tried to change my game – they’ve added to it,” said Murphy. “Hopefully the coaches in Carolina do the same.”
It isn’t clear how long it will take for Murphy to refine his game and get to the NHL, where he'll attempt to achieve the same heights as Skinner. At least on his draft night, he was proceeding as though he thought it would be sooner rather than later.
“I’m going to work hard every day to get better and stronger,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll be in the lineup next year.”