By Nick Patterson Herald writer
For most NHL draft prospects there’s little they can do in the run-up to the June draft to enhance their position.
There’s the combine, where they can show their fitness level. There are interviews, where they can display their character. But their ability to show what they can do on the ice is over.
Everett Silvertips captain Ryan Murray turned out to be the exception.
Murray just returned from playing for Canada at the Men’s World Championships in Finland and Sweden, and that not only gave him the chance to see how he stacks up against professional competition, it also provided one last on-ice audition for the draft.
“It was pretty incredible being on the same ice as those guys,” Murray said from his home in White City, Saskatchewan, upon returning from the tournament. “It was a great experience for me and it was great to get some playing time.”
The 18-year-old Murray, who’s considered one of the top prospects for the upcoming NHL draft, became the second-youngest player to ever appear for Canada at the Men’s World Championships, which concluded Sunday. Murray, the only non-NHL player on Canada’s roster, appeared in six of Canada’s eight games, registering no points and a plus-1 rating as Canada bowed out in the quarterfinals. He saw a regular shift in two of Canada’s games, but was used sparingly in the other four. He ended up averaging 7 minutes, 54 seconds of ice time per game.
Murray was originally brought along strictly to participate in Canada’s pre-tournament camp. However, injuries to defensemen P.K. Subban and Marc-Edouard Vlasic thrust Murray onto the roster and into the lineup.
“I didn’t even find out I was playing in the first game until two or three hours beforehand,” Murray said.
“I just tried to go out there and not make any mistakes,” Murray added. “In some games I didn’t get very many shifts, and in the last one I only got one. But I tried to do whatever I could to help out. Even when I did get some good minutes I tried to keep it simple and just not get scored on.”
Though Murray is not yet a part of the NHL fraternity, he said he was accepted by his Canada teammates, with Chicago Blackhawks star defenseman Duncan Keith serving as something of a mentor.
“In the first exhibition game I played with Duncan Keith,” Murray said. “He was just talking to me, asking if I was nervous. He really helped me along. He was the one talking to me and asking how I was doing. He helped me get comfortable and find my way with the group.
“All the players were great,” Murray added. “All of them made me feel welcome. They treated me as part of the team.”
The Men’s World Championships were Murray’s first opportunity to experience hockey against professional competition, and it was an eye opener.
“I found it was a lot faster, a lot quicker,” Murray explained. “It’s not that the players were so much faster, but guys are able to read the play so much better. Everyone is able to make plays and the game ends up being a lot quicker.
“I guess I learned what it takes to play at that level,” Murray added. “You see how good these guys are. I got to see the skill and work ethic and determination you need at that level. It was definitely a good learning experience.”
Conventional wisdom says Murray, who’s expected to be a top-five pick in June’s NHL draft, will be able to step straight into the NHL next season as a 19-year-old. So what does Murray think following his first experience playing against men?
“It was a little different,” Murray said. “A lot of the players there don’t play in the NHL, including most of the guys I was matched up against. The guys on Canada were pretty unbelievable. Everyone has a great skill set. It’s kind of hard to say. I felt comfortable that I could get by. But I still have a ways to go, and I’ll need a big summer if I want to make the jump next year.”
Hockey Canada general manager Kevin Lowe was the one responsible for inviting Murray. Lowe also happens to be the president of the Edmonton Oilers, who hold the first-overall pick in the NHL draft. So did Murray get a chance to talk to Lowe and read Edmonton’s intentions?
“We kind of talked, but not about the draft or anything,” Murray said. “We just talked about going out there and playing.”
Murray is hoping his play did his talking for him.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.