Canes' Murphy will take his shot

Rookies attend conditioning camp

Staff WriterJuly 11, 2011 

— While it was a jam-packed first day for the Carolina Hurricanes' rookies at conditioning camp, defenseman Ryan Murphy did find a free moment Sunday to tweet a few times.

"Tough day so far, can't wait to crawl into bed and pass out," Murphy wrote at one point.

And that was before the rookies took the ice at the Polar Ice House for a strenuous late-afternoon skating session.

Kidded about his tweet afterward, Murphy just smiled. It didn't take long for another ryanmurphy24 tweet to appear: "Great day today."

If anything, the Hurricanes' first-round draft pick is a quick learner. And if first impressions count, he's everything he was said to be - a smaller guy at 5-11 and 176 pounds who has very good hands, good vision on the ice and speed to burn.

"He's obviously a very talented kid," said Ron Francis, the Canes' director of hockey operations. "Real strong skater. You see him out there, the way he moves and handled the puck. He shoots it real hard.

"You hate to put too much pressure on any of these kids too early, but he's got a lot of ability and we look forward to watching that sort of grow over time."

Before the NHL Entry Draft last month in St. Paul., Minn, Murphy, from Aurora, Ont., generally was thought to be a top-10 pick. His numbers last season with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League could make some OHL forwards envious: 26 goals and 53 assists in 63 regular-season games.

The inimitable Don Cherry once proclaimed Murphy might be the No. 1 pick, that he was that good. Come draft day, though, he slipped down the board, and the Hurricanes got him with the No. 12 overall pick.

The rap on Murphy: all the offensive skills but weak defensively. Murphy said he has been hearing that for a long time. And, he added, it no longer applies.

"I'm an offensive defenseman, so I've been labeled as a little bit of a defensive liability," he said. "But I've worked so much this year on my defense with my coaches there in Kitchener, and I've improved a lot since I entered the OHL.

"I went from a minus player to a plus player. I was playing penalty kill, I was playing four-on-four, I was out there with the last minute to go in games. I think I'm ready."

Murphy, 18, said his biggest defensive improvement last season came simply from not trying to do everything at full tilt.

"My first year, I think I was going out there to prove a little too much and show them my offensive ability," he said. "I was go, go, go, and I was sometimes in the zone before some of the forwards, which isn't a good thing. My coach (Steve Spott) kind of slowed down my game and I got better positionally in my defensive zone, and it worked out for me."

Jeff Skinner, Murphy's former Kitchener teammate, made the jump from the OHL to the NHL last season at 18. The youngest player in the league, Skinner scored 31 goals for the Canes in winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

Skinner isn't a big guy, but he's solid and he's tough. A question about Murphy would be if he can deal physically with the bigger, stronger forwards in the NHL.

"I think I'll be able to handle it," Murphy said. "Most of my life people have been telling me I'm too small and too skinny and too weak to play at the next level, and up till now I've been proving people wrong.

"I'm just going to stick with the game I've been playing and hit the weights, and by the time training camp comes I'm going to be ready."

For now, he and the other rookies will try to survive three more days of off-ice training by Canes head trainer Pete Friesen and then the skating sessions. Murphy noted he talked with Skinner about his conditioning work last summer but didn't ask for any advice about the rookie camp.

"I don't know why," he said, grinning and shaking his head. "This seems to be one of the harder things to do. I'll be sure to ask him about everything else that's upcoming."

Should be something worth tweeting about.

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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