If there has been one recurring theme for the New Jersey Devils during the 2010-2011 season (and off-season for that matter), it's that the team needs a puck moving defenseman. Kitchener defenseman Ryan Murphy, subject of today's In Lou We Trust prospect profile for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, offers those skills and more. While Murphy might have been a more realistic option for the Devils if they held onto the 8th overall selection (winning the NHL Draft Lottery jumped the Devils to the 4th overall selection) it is still not out of the realm of possibility that the Devils might move back to select him in a draft day deal or just select him with the 4th overall pick. Considered 'very gifted' by Devils Director of Scouting David Conte, he is thought by many to be picked somewhere in the latter half of the first 10 selections in the draft. (Note that Conte also referred to him as the 'little guy')
Despite his small stature (5'11" & 176 pounds), Murphy has the offensive acumen that many teams, including the Devils, are always looking for. The consensus on Murphy is that he is a explosive skater, can lead the puck out of his own zone into the offensive zone and that he can efficiently quarterback a power play. The knocks on Murphy are his size and his play in his own zone.
He has impressed scouts with his play with Kitchener and with the Canadian U-18 team at the World Junior Championships in Germany. But the main question on Murphy is his size and how he will fare in the NHL. Is Murphy more Dan Boyle or more Marc-Andre Bergeron? Let's learn more about him after the jump.
Ryan Murphy Career Statistics:
Who Is Ryan Murphy?
Murphy, who just turned 18, is a right handed shooting defenseman that quarterbacks the Kitchener Rangers power play. His 79 points last season were second in the OHL in scoring by a blue-liner, outscored only by CHL defenseman of the year Ryan Ellis. Murphy ranked first in the OHL for goals by a defenseman with 26.
Murphy was selected 3rd in the OHL Bantam Draft back in 2009 by Kitchener and has been paying dividends ever since. He was named to the OHL All Rookie team with 39 points as a 16 year old. In a draft prep for the 2011 draft Kirk Luedeke had this assessment of Murphy in August of 2010 after only one year in the OHL:
He's a premier puck mover and blazing skater with high-end speed and agility and the creativity to do whatever he wants with the puck.
Despite being just 17 last fall, Murphy had a chance to make the U-20 Canadian World Junior Championship Team but was one of the last cuts by coach Dave Cameron. (The only non-drafted player to make that squad was Sean Couturier.) That he almost made the U-20 should make it no surprise that he played so well at the U-18 World Championships in April. Voted the best defenseman by the tournament directors, he led all defensemen in scoring (he was 6th overall) with 4 goals and 13 points in the 7 tournament games.
The disappointment didn't effect Murphy on the ice though. He continued his high level of play for Kitchener and was named to the 2010-2011 OHL All Star First Team. Note that Murphy was the only player named to the First All Star Team that had not been drafted by an NHL team.
Consistently a first round pick since the early mock drafts got released last summer (Ryan Kennedy of the Hockey News asked the question: Should Murphy be the top pick, back in November), Murphy was ranked 10th in the CSS Midterm Rankings and 9th in the final version released in April. The only defensemen ranked higher than Murphy are Dougie Hamilton of Niagara and Nathan Beaulieu of Saint John.
One of his main priorities for the Rangers has been his ability to generate scoring opportunities on the power play. Averaging 0.75 points per game during the regular season on the power play, Murphy makes the power play a weapon for his team.
Teamed with another stud prospect in Gabriel Landeskog, Murphy helped Kitchener to a playoff birth in the OHL playoffs, only to be upset by the Plymouth Whalers and Devils goaltending prospect Scott Wedgewood.
What Experts Have Said About Murphy
A lot of the commentary on Murphy has a lot of positives but it also tosses in the few negatives; a compliment sandwich of sorts. First, let's hit NHL.com for their scouting report:
NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards
"Ryan's work on the power play is outstanding, He sees the ice very well and is creative, [has] excellent passing ability and a great shot that he gets through to the net. (He's) also an excellent all-round skater. He's got real good mobility. He's a bit of a gambler. He does move the puck well, but he's going to have to concentrate on making good plays."
All the great things you want to hear about a defenseman that might be considered a 'puck-mover'. Concern that he is a 'gambler'? Not really. I would imagine he is just trying a few things out in a league that he might be too good to play in. There is nothing wrong with gambling provided you know where a gutsy play becomes a stupid play and by all accounts Murphy has great vision, so this knock doesn't concern me.
Showed off how dynamic he can be with the puck on his stick. Wheels easily out of his own end, and if you let him build up a head of steam through the neutral zone, it's all over. He can go end-to-end and roast even top-notch defenders. Terrific foot and hand speed. Won every race to loose pucks. Tried to play physical and step up on bigger guys, but unsurprisingly got knocked around quite a bit.
Another write-up that reinforces the notion that he is someone who can bolster the offense of a team from the blue-line. I like the fact that (even though he was unsuccessful) he did attempt to move around bigger guys. Getting knocked around by bigger guys isn't great, but it depends on the circumstances of the game. If he is such an offensive dynamo you can help 'protect' him on the blueline (like Matt Taormina was last year).
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.
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.
Calling Murphy the most skilled prospect is immense praise and if Luedeke is writing it, I have to think many others believe it too. Unfortunately, the downside of Murphy is one that we keep hearing about: size and strength. Strength he can improve. Size? Not so much. Plus, how big is Murphy really? He is listed at 5'10 and 5'11 in some spots. I think we can all agree some of those figures can be inaccurate at times. What if he is really 5'8 or 5'9?
In the below review of the 2011 U-18 World Championships Luedeke linked Murphy.....to the Devils.
.....Murphy was as dynamic as they come. Bruins fans who were hoping he would fall to the ninth spot now can only hope that if he is Boston's target, that the team can move up to secure him, because we just don't see him dropping very far out of the top-five (if at all even) after the kind of season, OHL playoffs and now Under-18 performance he just had. In fact, B2011DW wouldn't be at all surprised if the New Jersey Devils grabbed him as high as fourth overall. Sure, it will depend on who drops to them, but for a team who knew exactly what it had with Scott Niedermayer for over a decade, this kid's high-end offensive chops aren't far off.
Uh-oh. The Scott Niedermayer comparison....but wait it doesn't stop there. In this mock draft by Craig Button of TSN back in April he also links Murphy with the Devils while referencing the former Devil great, Niedermayer.
Craig Button's Analysis: They've never been afraid to take players who may not be big in stature and are patient with them. Don't forget that this team drafted Scott Niedermayer high and had a stalwart in Brian Rafalski for a lot of years.
If you are looking for a great read on a case for drafting Ryan Murphy (with plenty more quotes), visit Luedeke's feature on him here.
Editor's Note: The video feature seemed to not be working so I have removed them.
First, let's think about Murphy without using Scott Niedermayer as a comparable player. It's not fair to him, any defenseman the Devils currently have or will acquire in the future.
That said, the popular concerns (size and strength) that follow Murphy would be the same that concern me. It's not that I look down upon (pun intended) smaller players. In fact I would love for the Devils to acquire a late first/early second round pick for Rocco Grimaldi who stands at about 5"6 or 5"7. It's more that with a projected draft position of anywhere from #6-#12 I would have a hard time making the gamble on Murphy if I was an NHL GM. Not that any draft prospect is a sure thing but picks in the top 10 are ones that ideally shouldn't be gambles.
Would I want the New Jersey Devils to draft him at fourth overall? No, probably not. Would I want the Devils to take him with a selection in the second half of the top 10? Maybe I wouldn't want Murphy, but I certainly would be excited by his potential as a puck moving defenseman/power play quarterback and I certainly appreciate his commitment to defense.
Per an NHL.com article earlier in the year, here is Murphy talking about his defense. From the article:
Murphy would rather not have the "offensive defenseman" label affixed to him. "I don't like it that much because I like to see myself as a two-way defenseman who can play in my own zone," he told NHL.com.
His offensive talent seems to be unquestioned. The defensive part of his game will be one of the keys to his draft position. A team will not want to draft a one-dimensional defenseman with a top 10 pick. The other key to his draft slot will be how teams think he will hold up against the physicality of players in the NHL over the course of an 82 game season.
So the question on Murphy becomes....Will a team gamble on him early or will he slip to the mid part of the first round? Personally, the more I read about him I don't anticipate him getting out of the top 10, but I wouldn't be shocked if concerns about his size push him to the #11-#14 pick range. Regardless of who takes him, someone will get one dynamic offensive defenseman.
Now that you've read all of this information on Murphy, I want to know what you think of him as a prospect. Do you want the Devils to pick him at fourth overall? Perhaps, trade down a few slots to take him? Did you see Kitchener play or know of any other good scouting reports on him? If so, then please share them in the comments. Thanks for reading and sound off below!