In honor of defenseman Ryan Murphy's outstanding regular season performance and showing in the first round of the OHL playoffs (2 goals, 7 assists 9 points in 6 games), it is time to make the case for him as a potential pick for the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
The good news is that Murphy would be a nice fit for the Bruins, who have locked up captain and top defender Zdeno Chara for what should be the rest of his NHL career. The bad news is that because Toronto has played so well down the stretch, and given Murphy's own two-way heroics with Kitchener, the B's may not get a shot at the diminutive but high upside prospect.
Let's not waste anymore time- we're making the case for Murphy right now.
Dateline: X-Cel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota June 24, 2011
After looking like the team would possess a top-five pick for much of the 2010-11 hockey season, the Boston Bruins watched the Toronto Maple Leafs get hot in March and April to push that selection out of the top-10. However, given the depth of this draft, the B's are still looking at a potential stud as low as 11. When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces to the rest of the building that the Boston Bruins are now on the clock with the 11th overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the team wastes little time in moving to the stage to make their pick.
The Bruins, an organization lacking in elite defensemen capable of moving the puck and scoring from the back end, have watched the Kitchener Rangers closely all season long, keeping tabs on one of the OHL's top pure talents with an ability to make magic from the mundane.
Although draft publications and internet discussion boards had this smallish, but dynamic player off the board well within the top-10, there he sits when Boston's turn on the clock comes.
There is no further deliberation: the gamble has paid off without a move forward in the draft, and Boston Bruins organizational team and front office walk to the stage from their table, holding a Boston Bruins jersey with the digits "11" stitched onto on the back and sleeves.
Taking the stage along with owner Jeremy Jacobs' son, Charlie Jacobs, President Cam Neely, both Assistant GMs in Jim Benning and Don Sweeney, plus player personnel director Scott Bradley and amateur scouting chief Wayne Smith, General Manager Peter Chiarelli walks to the podium to announce the pick.
After the initial pleasantries of thanking the city of Minneapolis/St. Paul and host Minnesota Wild, Chiarelli gets down to business.
"With the eleventh pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins select, from the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League...defenseman Ryan Murphy."
Is it a plausible scenario to expect Murphy to be on the board at 11th overall? That is a topic open for debate, and while many would answer in negative fashion, the Aurora, Ontario native's lack of size will give teams picking ahead of Boston pause, even with his elite hockey skills. This could play to Boston's gain because he would be a very good value pick at 11, but it is also entirely possible that he'll never get there. The question then becomes- if the Bruins like him enough, will they move up to ensure they land the dynamo 'D'?
Ryan Murphy, D Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Height: 5-11 Weight: 176 Shoots: Right
Born: March 31, 1993 in Aurora, Ontario
2010-11 Kitchener (OHL) GP: 63 G: 26 A: 53 PTS: 79 PIM: 36 +22
A standout for the York-Simcoe Express as a minor midget, where he was coached by fellow 2011 draft prospect Daniel Catenacci's father, Maurice. Drafted third overall in the 2009 OHL Priority Selection by Kitchener. Had 6 goals, 39 points in 62 OHL games as a rookie; doubled his production in second OHL campaign: has a steep developmental curve. Finished second only to Windsor Spitfires veteran (and Nashville first-round pick in 2009) Ryan Ellis in scoring for defensemen in the OHL (Ellis had 24 goals, 100 points). Was not selected for the 2010 Team Canada Under-18 squad that captured gold at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August despite scoring a hat trick (4 total points) in the final scrimmage at evaluation camp in Calgary. Formed part of a legitimate leadership core- wearing the 'A' alongside team captain Gabriel Landeskog.
Strengths:The most skilled prospect at the defense position in the entire 2011 draft, and you can make the case that he could be the most talented player overall. A 5+ skater on the 1-5 scale; explosive acceleration, dynamic top speed with extra separation gear. A master of his edges; can cut and turn on a dime and shake would-be forecheckers with ease. When he revs it up through the neutral zone, few can slow him down. Outstanding four-way directional movement with both blazing mobility and slippery elusiveness with and without the puck. Excellent puckhandler who can make all his moves at full gallop. Keeps his head up and sees the ice beautifully. Super passer who can make every breakout with ease, either with the short-to-intermediate crisp tape-to-tape feed or the long, accurate stretch pass to spring the breakaway. High-end distributor on offense; able to exploit seams in defenses at will and unselfish with the puck. As pure gunslinger from the backline as you will find: possesses a true bomb from the point that is hard, heavy and accurate. Gets it off quickly and has the instinctive feel for when to shoot and when to move it to a better scoring position. Uses his excellent lateral agility to open up shooting lanes for himself, making him a dual shooting/passing threat every time the puck is in the offensive zone. Highly creative; thinks and reacts so much faster than 95% of his opponents at this level. Made one play that astounded scouts in attendance for Game 5 of opening series vs. Plymouth where he purposefully shot the puck off the backend to teammate Jerry D'Amigo, who buried it for a lead late in the game. Defensive improvement shows he has the work ethic and desire to be a player. Has mastered the art of the hip check; uses his superior smarts and mobility to lay out opponents much bigger and stronger than he. Quick, active stick to deny players who try to take the puck into traffic. Solid positionally; doesn't hurt his team with many mistakes or bad decisions. Hockey sense is simply off the charts in terms of his vision, judgment of when to activate, and the ability to read the play and make the right decisions both offensively and defensively. A leader and very high character player who came into the OHL with a lot of fanfare and has thus far has not only delivered, but raised the bar.
Here are some video clips of Murphy for a little perspective:
From Jerome B. at NHLDraftVideo:
HNIC Don Cherry "Coach's Corner" feature on Murphy (posted by Dominic Tiano)
Open Ice Hockey feature on Murphy and teammates Landeskog and Tobias Rieder before WJC
Weaknesses: With Murphy it's all about the size and strength issues. As skilled a player as he is, he'll have to account for bigger, faster, stronger forwards in the NHL and pros who will drive straight to the net and be difficult to contain on the cycle. Last season, his defense was a major question mark, more owing to the fact that he never really had to worry much about playing in his own end at the lower levels. However, he addressed his shortcoming to the satisfaction of most who watched him this season. Suffered a concussion due to a late-season hit to the head, which opens up concerns about long-term durability.
Style Compares to: Paul Coffey. When we watched Murphy blitzing up the ice in Oshawa back in January, we had flashbacks of the high-flying Oilers defenseman who broke Bobby Orr's NHL goal scoring record. Amazing thing is- Murphy was doing it on one bad wheel. He may not have Coffey's size (but he's not that far off, either), but Murphy has a similar skill set and aggressive style that is fun to watch.
Why the Bruins would pick Murphy: There isn't a whole lot to say here: simply put, Murphy's elite skill set would vault him to the top of the team's organizational depth chart. The Bruins have no player with anywhere near the pure upside Murphy has, even though David Warsofsky and Maxim Chudinov are intriguing prospects with some potential. One NHL scout told us early on that because the Bruins have a workhorse in Chara and enough very good defensive types, Murphy would be a "swing for the fences" type pick for them because he could fit in very nicely within their system over time.
Why the Bruins would not pick Murphy: Beyond the obvious situation that he might not be there for them at 11, the size and concerns about his already having had a concussion are the only stumbling blocks. The Bruins already have a collection of defenders under 6-feet in the system and on the big club, so skeptics could argue against adding one more. Given how much the Bruins have been in the OHL this season, it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't see the potential Murphy's pure talent and upside brings. At the end of the day, NHL teams can't worry about what might happen and have to judge players on their merits- Murphy's positives far outweigh the drawbacks.
What scouts/coaches are saying:
"There are two schools of thought on Murphy; he's not that strong in his own end. I mean, he's easily knocked off the puck and he'll take the puck and go with it all the time, so he needs to get better at refining his defensive techniques and paying a little more attention to what he needs to do in his own end. But, he's so dynamic. You look at a kid like Ryan Ellis; Murphy is so much of a better skater than Ellis will ever hope to be. And he's a lot more intelligent with the puck on his stick than Ellis and that's saying something, because Ellis is one of the most intelligent quarterbacks back there on the blue line that I have seen come along in the last 10 or 12 years. So, Murphy has all the things that Ellis does and much, much better skating ability with dynamic speed and acceleration. So, those are the things you accentuate. He's certainly going to be a power play quarterback who can quarterback a top power play in the NHL. The question is whether he-- he certainly has room to improve in his own end-- the question is will he take the coaching and will he get better at that? That's going to be the difference as to whether he's more of a specialist or a guy who puts up 20 minutes a night."- Kyle Woodlief, Chief Scout and Publisher, Red Line Report; December 2010
"I think he's a much more dynamic player than Ellis is. If you don't stop this kid at (his) own blue line, you're ****ed."- NHL scout to Bruins 2011 Draft Watch; August 2010
"He's such a smart player with the way he activates. He sees the ice so well and has that instinctive feel for finding the openings and moving the puck to his teammates for quality scoring chances. He's confident and aggressive with the way he handles the puck, and really, when he's on the ice, it's like having four forwards out there at all times."- Kitchener head coach Steve Spott to Bruins 2011 Draft Watch; January 2011
"He's improved significantly. What you have to understand about Ryan is that he's such a hard worker and is driven to be a better player in all aspects of the game. The first question I get from NHL scouts is, 'Can he defend?' and my answer is: 'Yes, he can!' His hockey IQ is so high, and while he's still working on his strength to win those 1-on-1 puck battles he's smart enough to win a lot of those and he's so competitive that he's able to be effective in his own zone."- Kitchener head coach Steve Spott to Bruins 2011 Draft Watch; January 2011
"What Ryan is going to have to overcome is risk. He'll have to deal with it his entire career, and NHL teams will have to decide how much risk they are willing to take with him. I think you saw that question answered a few years ago with a player that can do similar things in Ryan Ellis (Nashville Predators). After watching him in this league and in tournaments like the World Juniors, I don't know that there is any question that he'll wear the (Nashville) sweater. I could see how there would be questions surrounding Ryan Murphy, but when it comes to risk, he's well worth it in my opinion."- Kitchener head coach Steve Spott to Bruins 2011 Draft Watch; January 2011
"Murphy has looked great so far (in the 2011 playoffs). He looks like a top-10 pick...top-five, actually, with the way he's played."- NHL scout to Bruins 2011 Draft Watch; April 2011
Murphy in his own words:
"Obviously, I'm an offensive defenseman and I have the skating and skills to be a factor offensively. I like to join the rush and I can help on the power play. But beyond that, I'm an improved player defensively from where I was. I think I've learned how to play the position more effectively; how to use my feet and my head to make the right plays and be in position to prevent other team's from scoring goals. I'm still learning, but I know that I can be counted on to be an effective player at both ends of the ice, and that's what I would tell any NHL team."- Ryan Murphy to Bruins 2011 Draft Watch; January, 2011
"I don't think you can ever be satisfied with where you are as an individual player. Losing to Windsor in last season's playoffs taught me a lot about how far I have to go in my own development."- Ryan Murphy to Bruins 2011 Draft Watch; January, 2011
Bust factor: Low; We were skeptical at the beginning of the season because of the concerns about the belief that he might only be a specialist and his positional issues. Well, his performance was simply too good to ignore, and we've talked to enough scouts who just believe that he's going to be an excellent NHL player.
The Verdict: Back when the Bruins were looking at a top-five selection, Murphy looked like a risky pick. If they are picking 10th or 11th, he's a legitimate value with the kind of ceiling that could make Boston contenders for years. We held off on making the case for Murphy because we wanted to see how he held up over the course of an entire season, but it's time to give the young man his due. We loved what we saw from him in January, and after a small rough patch and then the subsequent concussion that kept him out of a few games, he's ramped it up and is making a legitimate case to not only the Bruins, but just about every team picking ahead of them in June. We said recently that the Bruins wouldn't move up to get this kid, but after hearing the raves about his postseason performance, anything is possible. Moreover, moving up might be what it takes to land him if the Bruins want Murphy badly enough.
Red Line Report perhaps said it best back in January when they featured Murphy in a monthly "draft spotlight" story: "A gamebreaker is a gamebreaker no matter what shape or size he comes in. So you'll find Murphy near the top of our rankings and don't bet against his NHL potential."