RALEIGH — Defenseman Ryan Murphy won't be making the jump from junior hockey to the NHL at age 18 this season.
The Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday returned Murphy, their first-round draft pick this year, to the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.
Murphy earned a spot on the Canes' 23-man roster for the regular season but did not play in any of the first four games. He had hoped to follow the path set last season by forward Jeff Skinner, a former Kitchener teammate who was the NHL's rookie of the year at 18.
"The fact that he went beyond the start of the season with us as an 18-year-old defenseman is really exceptional and tells what we think of him," general manager Jim Rutherford said Thursday of Murphy. "We feel him staying with us an extra week and participating in practice and seeing regular-season games, getting a feel for the tempo of games and the tempo of practices, will help him this season and help in his development."
Murphy, from Aurora, Ont., was the 12th overall pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and was arguably the best offensive defenseman in the draft.
"Obviously I've learned a lot," Murphy said. "I found out what it's like to be a professional hockey player but I guess it's time to go back down to junior for another year.
"I wish I had gotten in a game to see what it's like in the regular season, but that wasn't up to me and I'm happy with what I've done. I learned a lot. It's a lot faster, a lot quicker, but I'll work hard and see where that takes me."
The numbers on the back end worked against Murphy. The Canes went into the regular season with nine defensemen and Justin Faulk, a 19-year-old rookie, emerged as one of the surprises of training camp and played in the first three games.
Canes coach Paul Maurice said Murphy, slightly built at 5-11 and 176 pounds, had a chance to "see the next shift gear" between exhibition games and regular-season games. He also said he was impressed with Murphy's willingness to work on and off the ice.
"He's going to be a good player for a long time but I don't think he's quite ready," Maurice said. "But he's a heck of a draft pick."
Murphy created a bit of a stir Wednesday night after the Canes' 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins when he tweeted, "Had a great run, learned lots. Time to return to one of my favorite cities. #great ride."
Asked Thursday about breaking the news of his return to Kitchener, Murphy smiled.
"I didn't realize that," he said. "I guess that's not good then?"
No complaints from the Canes, who sent out an announcement Thursday.
Maurice said there are times when a player is sent back to junior with a glaring weakness to be addressed. Not so with Murphy, he said.
"He needs to get stronger and faster and that's just due to his age," Maurice said. "His work ethic and his conditioning are good. There's not huge holes there."