A year ago, Ryan Murray was facing shoulder surgery and months of rehab. His season was cut short when he injured the shoulder after only 23 games in his final year with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and his immediate future was uncertain.
Now the Columbus Blue Jackets rookie defenseman is facing the best hockey players in the world and quietly making the case he at least belongs in the discussion when it turns to the best first-year players in the NHL.
The 2nd overall pick in the 2012 draft is coming off a +3 performance in the Blue Jackets impressive 4-0 win over the Minnesota Wild at Nationwide Arena Friday night. He’s +5 on the season, tops on the team, and every night seems to do something on the ice that belies his relative lack of experience. And the great news for Blue Jackets fans? Murray says he’s still shaking off the rust after playing so few games last year and jumping right to hockey’s premier league.
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“Definitely I started out a little bit rusty,” the Saskatchewan native admitted. “I didn’t feel like myself, and it’s hard to compare because you go from junior to the NHL, and you’re asking yourself is the NHL so hard, or is it because I’m so out of synch? So, it was a little bit tough to compare there, but now I’m feeling better every day, and I think that I’m really starting to get used to things.”
Murray has an understated efficiency to his game, which is steeped more in substance than flash. He’s a terrific skater who plays a sound positional game, sees the ice extremely well, and makes exceptional first passes. And his shot may fly under the radar, but the most important thing is it usually flies right in on goal. He has an uncanny ability to be patient enough to find a shooting lane and get pucks through to the net. Ask any coach how important that is.
With a third of the season gone, the 6’1, 208 lb. d-man still marvels at the size of players and the skill level he’s seeing in the NHL compared to his days in the WHL.
“Everyone’s so much bigger, and the skill is incredible out there,” he noted. “Everyone handles the puck well; it doesn’t matter if you’re a first- or fourth-line guy. Everyone can handle the puck. It’s amazing how good they are at reading plays and being able to make plays in so little time and space. And everyone can shoot and score.
“It’s just really a pleasure to play with so many great individuals and great players (on the Blue Jackets),” he continued. “And it’s a lot of fun when you go out there and no matter what line you’re out there with, they can always make plays. It’s great to watch and great to play with them.”
Does Murray worry about hitting that proverbial “rookie wall?”
“I don’t think so,” he said. “You just go out there and try to contribute every night, and if you’re worried about just trying to win games and how you can help the team, it makes it a lot easier on yourself. If you’re always thinking about personal goals or personal things, you can kind of beat yourself up over it. But as long as you’re helping the team win every night, that’s all anybody really asks for.”
Seriously, this kid is straight out of NHL casting. Quick, give me a 20-year-old defenseman who can play top minutes, be patient and composed in his own end, and -at his best – can control the tempo of the game when he’s out there. Enter Ryan Murray, the quiet, humble kid from western Canada, who sees his game as progressing but still far from where he wants it to be.
“Yeah, it’s definitely coming along,” he said. “Obviously as a rookie in the league, you’re not going to be as good as you were your last year of junior, so I have a long way to go before I can get to that point. But I just have to be willing to put the work in and put the effort in to get there.”