There's no denying the fact coach Steve Spott is going to have a few sleepless nights as he begins to familiarize himself with the Canadian National Junior Team roster competing in the 2012 Canada-Russia Challenge this month.
Defenseman Ryan Murphy is one player who won't require much evaluation, however.
Spott has coached Murphy the past three seasons with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. This year marks the third time Murphy finds himself in a position to represent his country at the World Junior Championship -- he was released prior to the final roster selection the previous two years.
He hopes the third time is the charm.
"I'm probably going to be in a comfort zone," Murphy said of playing for his junior coach. "I have a little bit of an advantage over others because he is my coach during the regular season [in Kitchener], so I'm happy he got the job. He's a great coach and I'm just going to go out there and play the game I play in Kitchener."
Ryan Murphy finished fifth among OHL defensemen in playoff scoring last season. (Photo: OHL Images)
That's all Spott is asking him to do.
"In talking to the staff here, and to Ryan specifically, I think maybe what he did last year was not to his game," Spott told NHL.com. "I think when he came to camp, he tried to lay back and play defensive and really not allow his world class skill to shine. I've told him that he has to play his game; he has to do what he does, which is very special. If he's not a defensively liability, which I don't believe he will be, then he'll make our decision a very difficult one."
Murphy, who finished fifth among OHL defensemen in playoff scoring last season with 22 points in 16 games, admits he did attempt to do too much in previous Canadian selection camps which ultimately led to his release.
There's no question Murphy would serve as a key player working the point on the power play for Team Canada, something the coaching staff will be monitoring closely because specialty teams are so crucial in a short tournament. Of course, there's always the chance Murphy, a first-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011, earns a roster spot with the big club right out of training camp.
"I think he's ready for the challenge of stepping up and trying to win a job at the [professional level]," Carolina's director of amateur scouting, Tony MacDonald, told NHL.com. "He's the same type of player as an Erik Karlsson in Ottawa. I don't want to compare the two, but he plays the same type of game that Karlsson plays … he's a dynamic defenseman who makes a lot of things happen off the rush. He is an excellent quarterback on the power play, so the offensive skill he brings to the table is one reason we feel he might be ready to make a contribution."
Does Murphy have an advantage because Spott is Team Canada's coach?
"I hope he does," Spott said. "I think the challenge for Ryan has always been trust, and coaches maybe don't feel they could trust him defensively. I have trust in Ryan, but he also knows that our relationship is coach-player in Kitchener and it won't affect my decision when it comes to playing for Team Canada together. He's a pro and understands that, but my expectation is he can be one of our guys, and I think he has that same expectation."
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