The question caused Ryan Murphy to smile, the Carolina Hurricanes defenseman instantly grasping the innuendo.
Ever been to Las Vegas?
“Yeah, I’ve been to Vegas,” Murphy said, “but never for business.”
Murphy is aware the NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, will be in business in the 2017-18 season. An expansion draft will be held in June to stock the new team’s roster, and 30 general managers in the league are strategizing over which players will be exposed for the draft.
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Murphy, who turns 24 on March 31, could be one if he stays in the Canes lineup the rest of the season. One criteria is that a player have 70 total games over the past two seasons to be expansion-draft eligible. Murphy has played 53 – 18 this season – with 19 games remaining in Carolina’s season following a 3-1 road loss Tuesday against Colorado.
“We’ve got a couple of different options we’re looking at,” general manager Ron Francis said last week. “Certainly if he plays all the games that would be one guy who would be potentially available if need be.”
Since the trade of defenseman Ron Hainsey to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Murphy has played the past seven games. Murphy, a right-handed shot, has been teamed with Klas Dalhbeck or Matt Tennyson in the Canes’ third defensive pairing, and with mixed results.
“You obviously hate to see a guy like Ron leave our team,” Murphy said. “He was a big presence on and off the ice for us. But with that being said it’s a big opportunity for myself, Klas and ‘Tenny’ to fill those minutes in.
“It’s been frustrating for me this year. I’m a hockey player, so I want to play hockey. I’m a competitive kid and I want to be in the lineup each and every night. I want to take whatever minutes are given and prove to everybody I can play this game.”
Murphy was a puck-moving flash as a junior with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. While his forte was his offensive flair, his small stature at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds made him a bigger defensive liability in the NHL.
Taken in the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Murphy made his debut with Carolina in the 2012-13 season and played 120 NHL games the next three seasons, hopping between the Canes and the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League.
Francis signed Murphy to a two-year, one-way contract last July, a commitment from the franchise but also potential expansion-draft protection for the Canes.
Murphy was injured in preseason and later sent to Charlotte for a conditioning stint. He played six straight games for the Canes in late-December and early January, but then just once the next 17 games – a lot of time practicing, sitting and watching.
“I’ve never been in this situation before my whole life,” Murphy said. “I’ve been a player who’s relied on dating back to junior.”
Murphy had 11 minutes of ice time Tuesday in the loss at Colorado. The Canes led 1-0 after the first period on Justin Faulk’s 12th goal of the season, but the Avalanche scored twice in 46 seconds late in the second – Gabriel Landeskog on the power play, Tyson Barrie at even strength – to take the lead. Nathan MacKinnon’s late empty-netter sealed the win.
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster ride these past four years, with coaching changes and player changes and system changes,” Murphy said. “I think for me I’m still a confident kid and I still think I can play a very long time in this league and be a very successful player.”
Could that be in Vegas?
“If that’s what the future holds for me I’ll look forward to the opportunity, but I’m happy in Raleigh,” Murphy said. “I like everything about this team. I’m happy where I am and I’d like to stay.”
NEW YORK RANGERS AT CAROLINA HURRICANES
When: 7 p.m., Thursday.
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh.