Weight: 176 lbs.
Drafted: 1st Round, 2011 Draft
Last Year's Ranking: 5
Ryan Murphy is easily the most polarizing figure in the Hurricanes farm system. His coaches and his fans will rave about his skating and how dynamic of a player he is with the puck while others have a different opinion of him. Most recognize that he is an superbly talented offensive player, but his size and back-breaking mistakes in the defensive zone have many believing that he won't succeed as an NHL-er. These concerns seemed to reach a new high late last season when Murphy was named to Canada's World Junior team despite having his worst season since his rookie year.
Relative to expectations, Murphy did not have a great season and pretty much all of his negative assets were on display in the World Juniors. He was mainly used as a power-play specialist for Team Canada and when he was used at even strength, they were usually pinned into their own zone. Murphy looked out of his league against bigger forwards and made a lot of bad reads that resulted in chances and goals against. Both Murphy and goaltender Malcolm Subban were unanimously named the scapegoats for Team Canada, who failed to earn a medal in the tournament, and supporters were ruling out Murphy's future as an NHL-er.
I'm not going to sugarcoat this. Murphy was not good in the World Juniors and watching him in the tournament concerned me, especially the way he defended on the rush, but I don't want to hold six bad games against him. Not when you look at everything else Murphy can bring to the table. Defensemen with Murphy's skating ability and offensive talent do not grow on trees, so it's not fair to discard him as a prospect because of his defensive issues. If he can do enough to produce at the other end, Murphy should be an effective NHL player, even if it is only as a power-play specialist or an offensive defenseman.
I've mentioned this before, but there is always a trade off with offensive defensemen. A good majority of them are going to make mistakes in their own end, most of which are of the ugly variety, and that's always what most fans are going to notice. What many fans fail to recognize, however, is how effective offensive defensemen can be at moving the play forward and keeping the puck out of their own end. Their defensive shortcomings are still present, but they are mitigated by the fact that they don't spend a lot of time in their own zone because of how good they are at driving the play. Now, there are some puck-moving defensemen who are awful in this regard (Cam Barker, Jack Johnson, Ryan Whitney) but the ones who are effective at it are extremely valuable (Kris Letang, Lubomir Visnovsky, Keith Yandle, etc.). Which category does Murphy belong in, though?
Right now, it's a little too early to say how Murphy's career will end up but there are some concerns about him, one of which being his size. Some believe that Murphy is too small to play in the NHL, which will make him only effective in a limited, sheltered role. That might be the case for his rookie season, but I don't think anyone is "too small" to play in the NHL, as similar defensemen like Tobias Enstrom have had successful careers despite not being the most intimidating players on the ice. Going by what I've seen from Murphy, he may need to get a little stronger so that he isn't knocked off the puck so easily but his skating, passing and puck-handling could make him a pretty solid 5/6 defenseman in his first couple of seasons. His decision-making is also something that scouts have knocked him for, but this wasn't an issue during his brief stint in the NHL so I think he is still learning when and when not to be aggressive in the offensive zone. I would expect this to continue as he gets older and adjusts to the professional game.
The biggest issue for Murphy is going to be living up to expectations, as is the usual case with all former first round picks. When he was drafted, he was pegged as an elite offensive defenseman after recording 79 points in 63 games as an 18 year old. It's hard to score at that rate for a defenseman and Murphy's counting stats have predictably gotten worse over the next two years. Most would expect players to dominate at the junior level as they get older, but it appears to have been the opposite with Murphy. However, this isn't a huge surprise with Murphy because the huge numbers he posted during his draft year were mostly due to him scoring at an obscenely high rate on the power-play.
Not to discard Murphy's incredible draft year, but over half of his points came on the power play that season and it was unlikely that he would score at such a high rate again. That proved to be true in the following two seasons, although his even strength production did improve the following year. Murphy still continued to post good numbers, though and I would expect this part of his game to translate over to the next level. The question is whether or not he can contribute outside of just producing points, which goes hand-in-hand with my previous statement on if he can be a decent puck-possession player and not the next Cam Barker.
There are still a lot of questions and concerns surrounding Murphy's NHL potential, but I would expect him to play at least half of the season next year. The coaching staff, specifically Rod Brind'Amour, really like him and he is going to get a decent look in training camp. I know that there will be gripes about adding "another" puck-mover to the team, but is that honestly a bad thing right now? Aside from Joni Pitkanen, the Canes don't have a defenseman who can carry the puck through the neutral zone and drive play on their own. Justin Faulk plays more of a stay-at-home game and Andrej Sekera's offensive potential is still unknown. Murphy jumps into the play any chance he gets and loves to have the puck on his stick, so he will be add another dimension to Carolina's breakout game, even if he is an adventure in his own zone. He may end up being the team's long-term replacement for PItkanen if his development goes according to plan.
Projecting Ryan Murphy's future is similar to watching him play, because things could really go either way. He could either be the dynamic, offensive defenseman the team drafted or he could end up being a third-pairing guy who only helps the team on the power play. Murphy plays such a high-risk style that this is probably how things will work out for him. He showed the ability to play top-pairing minutes during his brief stint with the Canes, but he looked a little out of place in a couple games and I'm not sure if he'll be able to do that consistently in his rookie season. However, I do think that Murphy will have a decent career and his rookie season will not be a dull one.