Anyone who watches Kitchener Rangers defenseman Ryan Murphy
can see a supremely gifted skater and offensive talent.
"Ryan's work on the power play is outstanding," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "He sees the ice very well and is creative, [has] excellent passing ability and a great shot that he gets through to the net. (He's) also an excellent all-round skater."
"He's got some of the most skill I've ever seen," Ottawa 67s forward Shane Prince
, another top prospect for the 2011 Entry Draft, told NHL.com. "He's a great skater, great offensive defenseman. His puckhandling ability and ability to rush the puck is high end and it's tough to play against when he's out there."
Murphy's 58 points in 43 games leads all Ontario Hockey League defensemen and puts him on pace for 95 points, which would be the most by an OHL blueliner since Kingston's Chris Allen
had 95 in the 1997-98 season.
His efforts earned the 5-foot-10 1/2, 166-pound blueliner the No. 10 spot (third among defensemen) in Central Scouting's mid-term ranking of North American skaters for the 2011 Entry Draft.
While the offensive numbers jump off the page, Murphy would rather not have the "offensive defenseman" label affixed to him.
"I don't like it that much because I like to see myself as a two-way defenseman who can play in my own zone," he told NHL.com.
While it isn't easy, defensive-zone play has been a major emphasis for Murphy this season.
"To his credit he's worked at the defensive part of it," Rangers assistant coach Paul Fixter, who primarily works with the team's defenseman, told NHL.com. "At the end of last season, when we played Windsor in the conference finals, Ryan was out against the top players in the country, playing in our top four. He was contributing offensively but he was in a shut-down position -- and he's only built on that. Give him credit at working at what some people perceived as holes in his game. He's certainly proven those doubters wrong. He's proven to us that he's capable of playing against top players and not just being strong on the power play but being strong in his own end."
Added Murphy: "We work on defensive-zone coverage pretty much every practice with our coaches, and I just give it all I've got in practice."
The numbers show how Murphy has improved -- and lifted his team's defensive play as well. He was a minus-3 in 62 games with the Rangers last season, but so far in 2010-11 he's a plus-15. The Rangers have gone from allowing 3.47 goals per game last season to 3.07 this season, and their 135 goals-against is the fourth-fewest in the OHL.
Murphy credits Fixter, who has a pair of Stanley Cup rings from his days on the Colorado Avalanche
staff, with helping him improve his game.
"He always tells me just to play it simple," Murphy said. "Sometimes I over-think it, and his main thing is you don't have as much time as you want but more than you think."
Fixter said having a willing pupil makes him a better teacher.
"He's a great student," Fixter said. "He's very attentive. He's like a sponge, he absorbs everything. Are there times he falls back into his old ways? Certainly, but he's receptive."
All the speed that Murphy usually unleashes when he has the puck is being used to improve his defensive game.
"He's not an easy guy to get around because he's so quick and he's got a good stick," Niagara IceDogs forward Ryan Strome
, No. 19 on Central Scouting's list, told NHL.com. "And then when he takes the puck you know what he can do."
Added Kitchener head coach Steve Spott
: "His hockey sense allows him to make good decisions and he doesn't get caught up ice very often, like a Paul Coffey
-- he's able to get back and use his speed to defend, so as good as he is offensively, he's a little underrated defensively."
While his offensive game is outstanding, Murphy said he's also learning and getting better there as well. While leading the rush and going end-to-end can look pretty -- like the one he pulled out during the 2011 Top Prospects Game -- he's learning he can't force those situations.
Fixter sees that part of Murphy's game growing by the day, as well, and cited a recent game where the Rangers had a big lead, but injuries and penalties had left the team with just three defensemen for a period of time. Murphy knew to stay back and conserve his energy, because jumping into the offensive zone at that time wasn't needed.
"It's managing the game, managing the clock, managing what transpires in the game," Fixter said. "If we're down we need him to go, if we're up be smart. It's those decisions that as you move along you have to get better at. When you're at minor hockey it's just go. Now he's really learning all aspects of the game. He's a good student who wants to be the best. He's made great strides in his two years playing at this level. He's just so easy to work with because he's easy to be around, always has a smile, and pushes himself to get better each day."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com