Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Ryan Murphy has been slowed by flu-like symptoms, missing training-camp practice Thursday.
Murphy did not play in either of the Canes’ first two preseason exhibition games. He will miss the exhibition game Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning at PNC Arena.
In a camp overflowing with defensemen, with the competition thick for a roster spot, this is not the best time to be out. And no one knows the importance of this season more than Murphy, a former first-round draft pick by the Hurricanes.
“It’s make-or-break time,” Murphy said in a recent interview. “The days are gone when you might get away with a few things. It’s nerve-wracking for sure. This is a big year for me. I really want to show everyone how I can play and what I’m capable of.”
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Murphy, 23, has been an enigmatic player since being selected with the 12th pick of the 2011 NHL Draft. He has quickness. He can handle the puck and run a power play. There’s no doubting his offensive potential, and he has a right-handed shot, making him a valuable defensive commodity.
This is a big year for me. I really want to show everyone how I can play and what I’m capable of.
Canes defenseman Ryan Murphy
But Murphy has yet to make an impact. He has played 124 games for the Canes, 72 in the past two seasons, with uneven results. He also has spent considerable time with the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ American Hockey League affiliate.
Murphy signed a new two-year contract with Carolina in July. It’s a one-way deal, and general manager Ron Francis said after signing Murphy the Canes “look forward to seeing his game continue to grow.”
Coming out of junior hockey and the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, Murphy was pegged as an offense-first, defense-second kind of player. Only 5 feet 11 and 185 pounds, he didn’t have the size to bang or muscle in the defensive zone but could speed the puck out once he had it.
“I think definitely my defensive side of the game gets magnified because I’ve always had that reputation of being a liability in my own zone,” Murphy said. “I’ve come a long way since junior. I remember back in junior it was pretty much just get the puck and go. I had a lot to learn when I turned pro.”
Another knock on Murphy at times has been his conditioning. He has addressed that the past two offseasons, he said, working with trainer Pete Renzetti in the Toronto area.
Much is expected of first-round draft picks. The club invests a lot of time in scouting, in trying to make the right choice and not a mistake.
“First-rounders definitely have a little more weight on their shoulders because the organization took a risk to draft you,” Murphy said. “You want to prove to everyone it was the right pick, whereas when you’re drafted in later rounds you’re trying to prove people wrong.”
Haydn Fleury, the seventh overall pick by the Canes in 2014, is another competing for a spot on the blue line this season. And many others.
Forward Jeff Skinner was the seventh overall pick by the Canes in 2010 and immediately made the jump to the NHL at 18. He played with Murphy at Kitchener, the two are friends, and he’d like to see Murphy stick with the big club this year.
“He wants to be here just like everyone else,” Skinner said. “Everyone goes through different stages of adversity, different challenges. For him this camp is a good opportunity to show he’s put in the work in the summer and is ready.”
A pressing matter for NHL teams is the looming decision on which players will be exposed next year in the expansion draft for the new Las Vegas franchise. Murphy doesn’t want to be in that grab-bag mix, saying he’s committed to making it work with Carolina.
“Obviously the last three years I’ve learned a lot,” Murphy said. “There are things I’d like to have changed, games I’d like to replay, but I’m here now, and I just want to do my best and prove people wrong.”