Now that the 2011 NHL draft is over, those eligible for the 2012 draft now step into the spotlight of the hockey prospect world. That means Everett captain and star defenseman Ryan Murray is about to become a really big deal. Murray, who is being talked about as a top-five pick in 2012, will likely be a household name in Canada by this time next year.
In that story I wrote, I didn’t have the space to talk about the first time I saw Murray play, so I thought I’d do it here. Murray was Everett’s first-round pick in the 2008 bantam draft, taken ninth overall. He was billed as a small but skilled defenseman who would provide offense from the blueline unlike any other defenseman in Everett history. He was the highest pick Everett had since taking Zach Hamill first overall in the team’s first-ever draft in 2003, so I was eager to take a look at him when training camp began in August.
When Murray came onto the ice for his first rookie scrimmage, my first impression was he looked bigger on the ice than advertised. Size was considered his biggest weakness, but it didn’t look like it was going to be a problem to me.
I was expecting to see Murray, because of his offensive reputation, jumping into the play constantly. Players at rookie training camp are trying to impress, so they tend to play a bit overly aggressive. I remember Jonathan Harty as a 16-year-old at training camp in 2004 taking every opportunity to activate offensively from the blue line, and he was never really considered an offensive defenseman during his Tips career. But there was little of that from Murray early on as he seemed content to play his defensive role. It was a little bit disappointing.
Then came the moment. About halfway through that first scrimmage Murray was carrying the puck toward center ice when an opposing forward came at him hard. Murray, almost casually, did this fancy spin move to avoid the onrushing player, then just as he came out of the spin he got rid of the puck, putting it right on a teammate’s stick. Hmmm, maybe this player was something special after all.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d just seen the essence of Murray. He’s a player who has special abilities, but they’re not always obvious because to him the priority is to take care of his responsibilities as a defenseman first.
No, Murray isn’t about showing off the flashy skills, Murray is about playing winning hockey. And that’s why we’ll be hearing his name called early next June.