Former 1st round pick Ryan Murphy eyes regular spot with Carolina Hurricanes

calexander@newsobserver.comJuly 19, 2013 

— The Carolina Hurricanes’ development camp this week is filled with young prospects hoping to one day play in the NHL.

Then there’s Ryan Murphy, the exception.

The Canes’ first-round draft pick in 2011, Murphy made his NHL debut for Carolina this past season. The defenseman played four games for the Hurricanes before being reassigned to his junior team, giving him both a feel for hockey at its highest level and the belief he belonged.

“I’ve only got a little taste of the NHL and I want a lot more than that,” Murphy said Tuesday after the first on-ice camp sessions at PNC Arena.

Murphy, 20, spent most of last season with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. Once a teammate of the Canes’ Jeff Skinner in Kitchener, he again showed the speed, skating, puckhandling skills and offensive prowess that helped make him the 12th overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

In late-February came the call from the Canes. He played his first NHL game on Feb. 21 against the Winnipeg Jets at PNC Arena, then another home game against Tampa Bay. That was followed by road games against the New York Islanders and then the Washington Capitals, in which he found himself on the ice with the likes of Caps star Alexander Ovechkin, calling it surreal.

After four games, it was back to Kitchener. But when the Rangers were eliminated from the OHL playoffs, Murphy joined the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ American Hockey League affiliate, and also was a part of the AHL postseason.

In his five playoff games with the Checkers, Murphy had two assists and 10 shots on goal, and a plus-one plus/minus rating.

“It was a great experience,” Murphy said. “It’s a high level of hockey (with) a great pace. I learned a lot.”

But Charlotte is not where Murphy wants to be. Canes general manager Jim Rutherford has talked of Murphy possibly becoming a fulltime NHL player this season and that’s what Murphy wants.

“My goal is to play in the NHL this year but that’s up to the coaching staff, not up to me,” Murphy said. “I’m going to play my game, I’m going to work hard, I’m going to do everything I can to make the big club. But if it comes down to a little bit of AHL hockey being good for me, then I’ll respect their decision.”

The knock on Murphy has always been his size. While speedy on the ice, he’s 5 feet, 11 inches tall and said he came to his first Carolina prospect camp two summers ago weighing 165 pounds. He has added about 20 pounds.

“The biggest thing for him in the past was trying to get a little stronger, a little heavier,” Ron Francis, the Canes’ vice president of hockey operations, said Tuesday. “He’s put on some weight and needs to continue that and make sure his strength is there.

“He skates extremely well and understands the game, but the strength will be something that will benefit him, especially at this level with bigger guys battling in the corners and fighting in front of the net.”

Why a return to prospect camp? Francis said Murphy should benefit from having more time on the ice with Canes assistant coach Dave Lewis, who handles the defensemen, and Glen Wesley, the team’s director of defensemen development.

“Watch some film, pick up some skill habits he can take back and work on,” Francis said. “Then it’s taking the time he has between this camp and the start of the season to really bear down and focus on the things he learned here, which can give him a real chance to make the team in September.”

Like many high draft picks, Murphy has to fight the urge to get ahead of himself. He sees other former first-round picks in the NHL making an impact.

“It gives you extra motivation to be in the NHL,” he said. “But patience is key and that’s what I’m doing. I’ve been patient and hopefully next year is my year.”

Staal signs: The Canes signed right wing Jared Staal to a one-year, two-way contract that will pay him $550,000 on the NHL level or $60,000 on the AHL level during the 2013-14 season.

Staal, 22, made his NHL debut late last season, skating in two games with the Canes.

He set career highs in games played (52), goals (4), assists (3), points (7) and penalty minutes (25) at the AHL level with Charlotte.

Alexander: 919-829-8945 Twitter: @ice_chip

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