Most people in the hockey world say there are two kinds of defencemen. The one’s who are stay at home types and the one’s who play offensively. When you watch Ryan Murphy it’s not hard to tell which one he is. While growing up in the town of Aurora, Ontario Ryan played his minor hockey for the York Simcoe Express AAA team. This team was always highly ranked and had some very talented players, as most Express teams do. In Ryan’s last year of minor hockey his team was ranked in the top 10 all year long for the OHL Cup. They however did not end up winning this tournament as that honor went to the always extremely stacked Toronto Marlies program.
During that minor midget year I was able watch Ryan play many times. His teammate, Daniel Catenacci, was ranked first for the OHL draft and ended up being picked first that year. He was a tremendous prospect but every time I would watch I would end up paying attention to Murphy over Catenacci. That year Murphy looked like he was playing against house league players. It was almost like he was Bobby Orr on the ice and would rush end to end over and over again. He would pull off moves that I have never seen at that level. His head fakes and speed was off the charts and he made me want to watch a lot of Express games that year. However, after watching him play throughout that year, I couldn’t help but wonder how he would translate this style against better players in the OHL and then the NHL. The way he plays always makes me think that on one of his rushes someone in a higher league is going to catch him with his head down and hurt him bad. Players in the OHL and NHL are so good at hitting and the strength of players these days is always increasing. Nonetheless, Murphy had a great year that season and he put up huge numbers getting drafted 3rd overall by the Kitchener Rangers that spring.
In his first year of junior hockey Murphy played great and often played with Columbus Blue Jackets first rounder John Moore. He was getting noticed by many NHL scouts heading into his draft year. Most saw him as a Ryan Ellis type of player, someone who could run an NHL power play. Ryan was lucky to get drafted to a team like Kitchener who has a rich history in developing great NHL players such as Mike Richards. Coming into his draft year some people wondered about his size. Being only 5’11 and weighing around 175 pounds, Ryan always plays bigger than his size and has the confidence with the puck that most players just do not have. Size will always scare some teams away from drafting a player, but as an offensive defenseman he knew he would really need a big year to overcome this concern. Having a good season is one thing, having the season that Murphy had that year was something else. It’s almost as if he was playing minor hockey again putting up 79 points to lead all Ontario Hockey League defencemen in scoring. He was even invited to the World Junior camp that year. I personally thought there was no way he could be left off the team, but he was eventually cut. Being a high risk defenseman scared the Hockey Canada brass and they felt they just couldn’t keep him on the team just based on his offensive numbers.
Leading up to the draft that season, Hockey Night in Canada legend Don Cherry stated that Murphy would go first overall in the draft and wanted everyone to take notice of him because he was a special talent. It was the same thing that I felt, however I knew he would not go first overall because of all the risk in his play and his size. Ryan ended up being picked 12th in the draft by the Carolina hurricanes. He actually cracked the opening day roster in his first pro training camp only to be sent back to the juniors by the Hurricanes who felt that with Justin Faulk they could afford to send Murphy back for another year of juniors.
Coming back to juniors after being with an NHL team is never an easy adjustment. Most players go through an adjustment period where they have trouble reading players who are not as smart as NHL caliber players. Ryan had some trouble at the start of this season, unable to put up the kind of numbers most people would have expected. The season could not have started any worse until it got even worse. On November 4, 2011 Murphy was hit very hard behind his own net by Tom Kuhnhakl of the Windsor Spitfires. He was diagnosed with a severe concussion and was shut down for a long period of time. The hit ended up getting Kuhnhakl a twenty game suspension. This was the type of hit that I suspected would happen. Some of the most skilled players today are out from similar hits to the head. It doesn’t matter how good or elusive players think they are, there is always going to be someone at some level who could knock them out at anytime and change their lives and careers forever. Ryan was cleared to play just days before this year’s World Junior camp opened. He was invited, like most thought he would be, but Hockey Canada wasn’t sure of Murphy’s confidence because of the hit. Ryan ended up not making the World Junior team because they wanted him to play a more all around game and although Ryan tried, it just isn’t him.
Murphy is known for his ability to produce points and play with flash. He has a rocket for a shot and can skate like the wind. There is no doubt he will play in the NHL one day and I just hope for the crowd’s sake he doesn’t change how he plays because he is one of the most exciting players I have ever seen.
Resident of southern ontario. Analyst focusing on prospects. Follow me on twitter @southstars80