By Andrew Hirsh | Follow him on Twitter
In the hockey world, there are few elite 19-year-olds who have a lot left to prove at the junior level.
This is what makes Ryan Murphy such a rarity.
After watching the World Junior Championships from home the last two seasons, Murphy’s talent—at least relative to his fellow teenage countrymen—has been called into question on many occasions, despite the fact that he was a recent first round draft pick in the NHL.
But finally, after three long years of waiting, Murphy has been given the chance to show just how good he is on the international stage.
The skilled defenseman was named to Canada’s 2013 WJC roster on Thursday after surviving the final round of cuts; this was made official after Matt Dumba was released, giving Murphy one of the few spots up for grabs.
Selected 12th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011, Murphy has proven to be one of the best young offensive D-men in the world. With a lethal shot and elite hockey sense, the Aurora, Ontario native could be an incredibly valuable asset to Canada in the upcoming tournament.
Even though Murphy won’t receive the minutes he’s used to in the OHL, he does have one big leg up on his teammates: the man standing behind the bench.
Steve Spott, one of the sharper minds in the game and the head coach of this year’s Canadian WJC squad, also coaches the Kitchener Rangers—the team Murphy has called home since 2009. If there’s anyone out there who can give the 5’11” blueliner a chance at success, it’s Spott.
“I don’t think there are many players out there like (Murphy),” the 44-year-old coach told me last summer. “He has world-class ability.”
Many have wondered if Spott will play favorites with his pupil, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
“I think the challenge for Ryan has always been trust, and coaches maybe don’t feel they could trust him defensively,” Spott told NHL.com prior to Thursday’s announcement. “I have trust in Ryan, but he also knows that our relationship is coach-player in Kitchener and it won’t affect my decision when it comes to playing for Team Canada together. He’s a pro and understands that, but my expectation is he can be one of our guys, and I think he has that same expectation.”
While Spott figures to show little or no nepotism during the tournament, he will know how to best utilize Murphy having coached him for the past several years. Expect him to receive a healthy amount of time working the power play, where he’ll get his fair share of scoring chances. At even strength, we’ll likely see Murphy matched up against opponents’ third and fourth lines.
“I’m probably going to be in a comfort zone,” Murphy said of playing for his junior coach. “I have a little bit of an advantage over others because he is my coach during the regular season, so I’m happy he got the job. He’s a great coach and I’m just going to go out there and play the game I play in Kitchener.”
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Canada’s full WJC roster can be found here.