Hurricanes’ Murphy paces himself into NHL play

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Chris Baird, TSN via Baird Photography
Chris Baird, TSN via Baird Photography

RALEIGH, N.C. – Carolina Hurricanes rookie defenseman Ryan Murphy recorded his first-ever National Hockey League (NHL) point, an assist on defensive partner Jay Harrison’s goal, during a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers at PNC Arena on Sunday,

“In my head I pictured it a bit better,” Murphy said.

“Maybe a goal, an overtime goal, but I’m happy to get it out of the way. It was a good shot by Harry.”

Maybe not the glamorous memory that the young defenseman had dreamed of, but for one who’s taken some time to get the chance to play in the NHL since being drafted 12th overall by Carolina in 2011, he’s appreciative of the opportunity he has in front of him at the moment.

For two seasons since being drafted he had made good showings at prospect and training camps and in preseason games he played with the Hurricanes before returning to his junior club, the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

Last season he made a more significant in-season trip to North Carolina that included a four-game emergency call-up in February during which he made his NHL debut.

He played in those games and registered career-high playing times and placed 7 shots on net before returning to his duties as captain of the Rangers.

When Kitchener’s postseason run ended, he traveled back South and played with Carolina’s affiliate club, the Charlotte Checkers, in their brief AHL postseason run of five games in which he tallied two assists and 10 shots on goal.

Following up on another successful summer of hard work at both prospect and training camp, Murphy earned a spot on Carolina’s roster to start the Hurricane’s 2013-2014 season and played in the home-opener at PNC Arena last Friday against the Detroit Red Wings.

“I’m really excited, but you gotta’ keep those emotions intact,” Murphy said when asked what he was feeling following the pregame skate that morning.

“I think it helps a lot that I got a couple of games in last year. That gives me a comfort zone in the building, but it is an opening night and I’ve never been part of an NHL opening night, so I’m real excited.”

Murphy didn’t take long to test his legs out against the Red Wings as he made several long distance rushes throughout the game, but they didn’t result in any significant shots on net.

However, he played a solid defensive game that included him blocking three shots and registering a takeaway.

Even though the Hurricanes ended up losing the game 3-2, head coach Kirk Muller stated that he liked how Murphy handled himself during his 17 minutes of time on the ice which included over three minutes of ice time on three power play sequences.

“I think it was a good game,” Murphy said afterwards.

“We did a lot of good things. We had a high tempo in the first. We limited a high-scoring team to a couple of chances, but in the end we have to play a full 60 minutes.”

The next day, after the team’s practice concluded, he talked about the different focus he’s playing with while trying to earn a regular spot on the Hurricanes roster.

“(Last year) I knew I was going back to Kitchener and I kinda’ just wanted to leave it all out there,” he said.

“This year I’m comin’ in here, I’m fighting for a job, I’m fighting for a spot on the team knowing that I’m not going back to junior and I’m either here or in Charlotte. I wanna’ be with the big club so I guess I have to play my game and play hard every shift.”

Leading rushes and jumping into them is a staple of Murphy’s game that sets him apart from any other blueliner on the Carolina roster.

It’s his bread and butter and something he knows he must continually work on in order to do it successfully in the NHL.

“I gotta’ pick my spots a lot better than I had been in junior hockey,” he said.

“There’s always little holes you can jump into as a defenseman. I just try to find those. I try to be patient and wait for them. I had some rushes yesterday (against Detroit), but ultimately I have to get some shots and pucks to the net at the end of them.”

Having shown such confidence while playing in his first game of the season, it made sense that the 20-year old would continue to play his style of game against a tough and hard-hitting Philadelphia Flyers squad.

While logging just over 16 minutes against the Flyers, he managed to make valuable contributions at both ends of the ice.

Not only did he record his first NHL point, but his most memorable moment in the game came 14 minutes into it when he laid a hip check into Philadelphia forward Sean Couturier that had everyone in the building cheering.

The 5-foot-11-inch defenseman had taken down the six-foot-three-inch forward with the grace of a skilled lumberjack bringing down a redwood.

“I felt good,” Murphy said.

“Obviously the first night everyone had a bit of nerves, and my first home-opener, but coming in tonight, I guess I was more at ease and a bit more comfortable and I felt good out there.”

Probably the most impressive takeaway from Murphy’s performance against the Flyers, and in playing in only his sixth career NHL game, was the confidence bestowed on him by Muller to stay on the ice for five-and-a-half out of eight minutes on the power play.

“Coming into the season, the question mark was, ‘where was he at?’,” Muller said afterwards.

“Was he capable of playing against some of the guys here in 5-on-5 hockey? We know that he brings an offensive skill . He’s still young. He’s just going to get better and better and more confident back there and comfortable. So far he’s held his own – he’s played well 5-on-5. We certainly have a lot of confidence in him that he can go out, get the job done, and just play.”

When asked how he felt about having the responsibility of playing significant minutes on the power play, the rookie’s response was candid.

“It’s obviously a position that everyone wants to play, but it’s just not given to you,” Murphy said.

“I’m sure if I have a couple of rough patches, you’ll see me yanked off, so I obviously gotta’ play well. I gotta’ get some pucks to the net, I gotta’ distribute the puck, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”

So as the Hurricanes completed their season-opening weekend having accumulated three points out of a possible four, and progressed from an unfulfilled, hard-working first game to a more gratifying second, so did Murphy.

It seemed that he heeded the advice of his defensive partner and stall-mate in the dressing room, Harrison, who made a simple statement to Murphy on Saturday which could pay huge dividends for the young defenseman to have a successful career in the NHL should he decide to follow it.

Take it one day at a time, one game at a time.

Game highlights: Carolina Hurricanes 2, Philadelphia Flyers 1 – Ryan Murphy check on Sean Couturier (hurricanes.nhl.com)

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