RALEIGH — Ryan Murphy easily could be disgruntled and disappointed about playing for the Charlotte Checkers.
Murphy started the season with the Carolina Hurricanes. He was getting a lot of ice time. At 20, he was comfortable being an NHL defenseman, competing against the best forwards in the world and enjoying the major-league lifestyle.
But Murphy was bright enough to realize all of that was about to change. He had been an occasional scratch by the Canes, but then in mid-January was held out of four straight games.
On Jan. 24, Murphy was assigned to the Checkers, the Canes’ American Hockey League affiliate. That was the NHL deadline for sending players down and having them eligible to play in the AHL during the NHL’s Olympics break.
“I think I kind of sniffed it out when I didn’t play in the last four games,” Murphy said. “It’s obviously not the news you want that close to the break, but you’ve got to deal with it, you’ve got to play hard.
“Going into the Olympic break, there’s no reason why a guy like me shouldn’t be playing. I was fresh, and with those two weeks off, who knows what it would have done to me.”
Murphy has been productive for the Checkers. He picked up three assists as Charlotte split the two weekend games against the Abbotsford Heat at PNC Arena, giving him nine assists in nine AHL games.
“He’s handled it fine,” Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said. “He’s no different from anyone else who gets sent down. It’s obviously a disappointment, especially after spending the first half of the season (with Carolina). As much as you want to be (in the NHL), you need to just work on your game and push yourself in practice. His attitude has been good.”
Murphy logged a lot of minutes for the Canes early in the season. In 14 games from Oct. 13 to Nov. 15, he topped 20 minutes eight times, with a season high of 25 against the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
With a surplus of healthy defensemen, Canes coach Kirk Muller then elected to sit Murphy from time to time. After the Jan. 13 game against the Calgary Flames, and a 2-0 loss by the Canes, Murphy sat out the four games.
While his speed and offensive skills and instincts have not been questioned, the Canes wanted him to concentrate on his defensive-zone play while at the AHL level. At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, he often is in the position of battling bigger forwards for the puck.
“He’s not going to be a big, physical guy but he needs to be able to shut guys down one on one and read situations,” Daniels said. “It’s a little different (in the AHL). You can get away with a mistake here and there, whereas (in the NHL) one mistake can cost you the game. One thing about the American Hockey League is guys are down here to play and learn from mistakes.”
Murphy was the Canes’ 2011 first-round draft pick. He got into four games last season before being sent back to the Kitchener Rangers, his junior team in the Ontario Hockey League, and played eight regular-season and playoff games for the Checkers.
When Murphy made the Canes’ roster out of training camp last fall, it appeared he might stick in the NHL. But after 39 games, it was off to Charlotte.
“There are areas I definitely need to get better at,” Murphy said. “Sometimes, I try too hard. I’ve just got to … stick to the little things and focus on defense. And when I get my chances to play offense, take advantage of that.”
And get back to the Canes.
“It’s obviously tough from being in the NHL to go to the AHL, but I’m a 20-year-old kid and hopefully I have a long, bright future in store for me,” he said. “I have to take this as a learning experience, play hard down here, try to contribute, be a solid defenseman, contribute on the power play. And when I get my shot to put on the Hurricanes jersey again, I’m going to do my best to stick in the lineup and not come back down.”
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