Canes' Murphy closer to permanent NHL spot

calexander@newsobserver.comOctober 9, 2013 

— Much has happened since Ryan Murphy was last at the Verizon Center.

In February, the defenseman was in the Carolina Hurricanes’ lineup for a road game against the Washington Capitals because of injuries. As an emergency call-up, Murphy knew he would be sent back to his junior team as soon as a defenseman was healthy and available for the Canes.

Sure enough, two days later, he was on his way to the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. His fourth NHL game, at the Verizon Center, was his last of the season for the Hurricanes – a quick taste of hockey at the highest level.

“It wasn’t much of a downer because I knew I was headed back,” Murphy said this week. “I knew it was a matter of time.

“It definitely was bittersweet. I got to go back to Kitchener and see all my buddies and try to make a run there in the (OHL) playoffs. That was fun. But obviously I would have liked to stay up here.”

Nearly eight months later, Murphy is closer to being a full-time NHL player. The game Thursday against the Caps at the Verizon Center will be his fourth of the season as Murphy won a roster spot out of preseason camp.

“You could tell he really wanted to make the team,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said. “It wasn’t like he was nonchalant about it or ‘Will it be given to me?’ He earned it.

“I think he’s matured from last year. He feels comfortable. He feels like he’s an NHL player.”

Murphy, 20, has been paired defensively for much of the first four games with Jay Harrison, who is 10 years older and said he enjoys mentoring the younger guys. Harrison is a believer in constant communication, on and off the ice, and sits next to Murphy in the Canes’ dressing room at PNC Arena.

“Being an older veteran friend probably is the best way to sum up how I provide a little support for Ryan,” Harrison said. “I enjoy having a good time, which can keep him relaxed. At the same time I approach this with a great seriousness and respect, because I have taken such a long road to get here and know how special it is to be here.

“His road has been a little different than mine, but it doesn’t mean he can’t pick up on some of the lessons I might have learned the long way around.”

Harrison played his way up through the American Hockey League and also spent some time in Europe. Murphy was the Canes’ first-round draft pick in 2011, a puck-moving defenseman who offsets a lack of size – he’s 5 feet 11 inches, 185 pounds – with exceptional speed and offensive skills.

Murphy stepped in last season and held his own in his four NHL games. After Kitchener’s season ended, he went to Charlotte and competed for the Checkers in the AHL playoffs.

Harrison, like Muller, said he has noticed a difference in Murphy’s demeanor and game this season.

“I think that experience from last year is paying a little bit of dividends for him,” Harrison said. “He’s calmer in the defensive zone. He’s become more patient and reliable. Offensively, he’s become a little more assertive in taking the puck and knowing his skills and when to apply his offense.

“It’s a natural progression. And he’s still a young man and there are still leaps and bounds to go.”

During the Canes’ 5-2 loss Tuesday to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Murphy made a few defensive mistakes and was on the ice in the third period when the Pens’ Tanner Glass scored for a 4-2 lead. But he also showed off his offensive flair during the second period when he skated through traffic and carried the puck nearly the length of the rink before getting off a shot.

Murphy said he appreciates the help and advice given to him by Harrison, whom he jokingly called a “chatterbox.”

“He’s vocal and it helps a lot on the ice,” he said. “He lets me know where to be, who’s on me, or where the opening is. That help is huge. I never knew how much it could help until I was playing with the Hurricanes this year.”

Asked if Harrison was brutally honest with him, Murphy smiled.

“He hasn’t been too tough on me yet,” he said. “Maybe if I make a costly mistake he’ll give me the gears. As of now he’s been kind of like a big brother.”

Will their pairing continue? Time will tell. When defenseman Tim Gleason returns from a concussion, the Canes likely will send a defenseman to the Checkers. But it may not be Murphy.

“He’s a special player,” Muller said. “He knows the game well for his age. He’s got the skill level. He can run a power play. It’s just him getting more comfortable.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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