By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — There’s one question that hangs over the heads of the Everett Silvertips when looking ahead to the 2012-13 WHL season.
Will Ryan Murray be back?
Everett’s captain and best player is eligible for this year’s NHL draft, and conventional wisdom says Murray will be plying his trade at the highest level next season.
“I’m not anticipating him being back,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said. “He’s a heck of a player, and I wouldn’t be the least surprised if he ends up in the NHL.”
Murray has been a revelation since the first day he stepped on the ice at Comcast Arena as a 15-year-old prospect during training camp in 2008. Selected ninth overall in that year’s bantam draft, the 18-year-old defenseman from White City, Saskatchewan, has spent three seasons doing everything the Tips could have hoped and more. In 168 career games with Everett he compiled 20 goals, 84 assists and countless plaudits for his all-around play.
“I don’t coach a player like Ryan Murray, you let Ryan Murray play,” Tips bench boss Mark Ferner said. “It’s more like, ‘If you’re good to go, go.’ He’s a tremendous hockey player, but what people don’t see behind closed doors is the way he conducts himself and treats his teammates. It’s already like a pro. He’s like a seasoned veteran coming into his prime at 32, 33. What you see with Ryan Murray is what you’ll get, he’ll be the same player at the next level.”
In most cases players in Murray’s position would be back in Everett for one more season. Those drafted out of the WHL are ineligible to play professionally in the minors until their 20-year-old season. Murray will be a 19-year-old next season, meaning whichever NHL team drafts him can’t stash him in the minors.
But Murray can play in the pros if he makes his NHL team, and there’s a high likelihood of that happening. Murray is a shoo-in to be a top-10 pick in the draft, and has been projected to go as high as second overall. And as a late birthdate he’s being picked after his 18-year-old season instead of after his 17-year-old season, meaning he’s put in plenty of time at the junior level already.
Do the people who see Murray every day think he’s ready for the NHL?
“I do,” Ferner replied. “He’s that good. I don’t see there being another pro-ready player like he is in our league.”
For his part, Murray doesn’t know whether he’s ready.
“It’s tough to say,” Murray said. “I’ve never really been on an ice surface at that level. I’ve been asked this question before, but I keep saying, ‘I don’t know.’ I guess we’ll see when training camp comes next year. If I’m ready, I’m ready. If not, I’ll be back here another year.”
But regardless of whether he’s ready, the NHL is where Murray wants to be next season.
“It’s my goal to move on next year, so if that doesn’t happen I might be a little disappointed,” Murray said. “But if it doesn’t happen, I’d be happy to be back.”
The wild card in the equation is the possibility of an NHL work stoppage. The league’s collective bargaining agreement with the player’s union expires at the end of the season, and rumors suggest the two sides are far apart when it comes to a new agreement. Any kind of a lockout, even a short one, could mean another season in Everett for Murray.
“The one thing that keeps me optimistic about it is the rumor of a lockout,” Ferner said. “He being 19, he can’t go play in the minors. Do I want Ryan to play pro next season? Absolutely. Am I keeping my fingers crossed a little bit and selfishly hoping there’s a lockout? Yeah.”
But whether Murray returns next season or not, he’s been appreciative of his years in Everett.
“They’ve been fantastic,” Murray said. “The fans here are incredible. When I first got drafted I didn’t even know where Everett was, to tell you the truth. But since the first day I got here I’ve loved it and I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else, that’s for sure.”
Whether Murray’s tenure in Everett expands by a year will be one of the stories of the offseason for the Tips, and the answer to that question may determine the success of next season’s team.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.