Team Canada released its World Junior Selection Camp roster on Monday, and Kitchener Rangers defenseman Ryan Murphy was on it.
This is a departure from the Ivan Hlinka Under-18 final roster decision, in which Team Canada head scout (and former Los Angeles Kings amateur scouting director) Al Murray left Murphy out of the mix for the eventual gold medal champions. This curious decision, which received even more scrutiny because Murphy registered a hat trick and five points in the final scrimmage before the team was announced, is now a subject of debate again because a change in personnel for Team Canada now has Murphy coming to camp with a shot at making Canada's elite Under-20 team.
Kevin Prendergast replaced Murray in September as Team Canada's new head scout. Murray moved down to the Sunshine State to head up Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning's amateur scouting staff, while Prendergast was out of work after being let go from the last-place Edmonton Oilers during the off-season. He's the man who will have the most influence on the Under-20 club that will try to get back to the gold standard. He's at least recognized Murphy's potential to help this year's team that will seek to avenge the loss to Team USA in Buffalo. It's an intriguing development after he wasn't considered "good enough" to make the Under-18 squad in August. Funny, but what a difference three months makes!
Murphy is no shoe-in for Team Canada, especially with the presence of WJC veterans Ryan Ellis (Nashville) and Calvin DeHaan (NY Islanders). However, unless you've been living under a rock for the past 90 days, Murphy's blistering point totals should earn him serious consideration even if for a specialist's role as a 17-year-old with huge upside.
Bruins 2011 Draft Watch talked about Murphy's snub in August and invite to the U-20 camp to one NHL scout who has followed the defenseman closely in the OHL and various other venues, and who is also well-versed in the Team Canada selection process (not to mention having attended at least 15 of the WJC evaluation and selection camps over the years).
"It was a joke that (Murphy) didn't make that (Under-18) team for the Ivan Hlinka," the NHL scout said. "I've been to a lot of these camps and I don't think I've ever seen the kind of dominating performance Murphy put on in that final game. Ever. And we're talking about great NHL players who didn't do what Murphy did: not Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos or Drew Doughty. Ever. The domination that kid showed this past summer was a first for me."
While Murray never really did give an explanation for the decision, it was widely believed that Murphy's lack of size, defensive game and a possible personality conflict may have played into the snub.
"I've never heard a bad word said about the kid from anyone," the scout said. "Murray took kids with some questionable issues in the past to the Ivan Hlinka. He took kids with attitude concerns to the World Juniors. It isn't like Murphy is a bad kid at all, if anything, he's one of the best kids out there. So, you figure it had to be the defensive concerns as to why he was left off. What else could it be?"
Now, with Prendergast on board, and an OHL coach behind the bench for Team Canada in the Mississauga St. Mikes' Dave Cameron, Murphy is squarely in the mix thanks to those who have seen enough of him lighting up the league this year to know that he could be worth adding despite some long odds.
"The big issue is Ryan Ellis," said the scout. "He'll run one power play unit, and (Calvin) DeHaan will run the other, so where do you put Murphy? If it's me, I take him as my 7th and I get him in there with the man advantage whenever I can. If the power play's not working, then this is the kid who's going to make it go. And, he could do more than that."
Murphy certainly appears to be motivated about the Slovakia snub. By all accounts, there's no way he should have been left off that roster. Had Canada somehow lost the gold medal game to the USA (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored the only goal in a 1-0 decision), you would have heard the screams all the way from Oakville to Timmins. Canada prevailed, but if there was ever a time to take a bit of a chance and put a potential game-breaker onto the squad, even one as young as Murphy, it is now.
"This kid is (expletive) insane offensively," the scout said.
If he gets cut this time around, Kitchener coach Steve Spott may see an even more fired-up Murphy amp it up and take out those frustrations on the rest of the OHL field this winter.
Given that Cameron may have to face Murphy and the Rangers at some point in the playoffs, and even the Memorial Cup (Mississauga is host city), it might behoove the coach to take Murphy to Buffalo with him.