For anyone catching up, a menu of previous player (and also coaching and GM) report cards can be found at the bottom of the article.
Ryan Murphy’s starting point for the 2016-17 season
As a suddenly ‘needs to be maturing’ prospect at 22 years old, Ryan Murphy had a tough 2015-16 season both individually and in terms of the circumstances around him. He was very quickly leapfrogged on the Hurricanes’ blue line depth chart times three when the Hurricanes drafted Noah Hanifin and then Brett Pesce and later Jaccob Slavin made the jump almost straight from NCAA hockey into regular roles in the NHL. Murphy was suddenly no better than fifth or sixth even on a futuristic depth chart.
Individually, the 2015-16 season was not much better. The season started okay. Murphy found himself as half of the third defense pairing along with rookie Noah Hanifin. To this day, I continue to grumble about both players needing to play to their strengths as skaters and puck carriers, but with Hanifin an 18-year old jumping from a single season in college and Murphy still trying to get his feet firmly under him at the NHL level, their conservative, safe and sound start was not a horrible thing. Murphy had a quiet but steady October playing with Hanifin, but then a lesser November kicked off a winter of being in and out of the lineup and up and down from the AHL. Surpassed by Pesce and Slavin, Murphy did not check back into the NHL lineup on a full-time basis until the trade deadline made room. He had a decent March/April finish.
When the books closed on the 2015-16 season, Murphy had collected another 35 games of NHL experience and 10 assists (no goals) but still had not really established himself as an NHL regular while others did.
Ryan Murphy’s 2016-17 season with the Carolina Hurricanes
Ryan Murphy entered the training camp before the 2016-17 still very much trying to reach the higher level needed to become a regular and ideally a difference-maker in the Hurricanes’ lineup. At 23 years old and suddenly looking up on the depth chart at a few players who were his age or younger, the sense of urgency was increasing and the ‘this is his chance’ refrain was repeating.
Murphy’s 2016-17 season was derailed before it started when an injury caused him to miss the tail end of preseason and also the first few weeks of the regular season. When he did start, he started slowly. It took only 4 rough games for Murphy to again find his way onto the carousel that shifted him in and out of the NHL lineup and back and forth from the AHL and NHL. Just like the previous season, Murphy would not regularly see NHL ice time until the trade deadline opened up another blue line slot. Murphy looked better at times in a limited role in March before another injury cut short his season by a few weeks.
Murphy finished with 0 goals and 2 assists and a minus 11 in 27 games at the NHL level and very much with his future in the Hurricanes’ lineup still in doubt.
Grading Ryan Murphy
Graded as: Third pairing defenseman.
Grade: C. Like the other players who shifted in and out of the last defense slot in the lineup, Murphy never really put things together in 2016-17. And as a player still clinging his final rounds as a ‘young player’ and/or ‘prospect’, he really did not show enough progress. I would actually feel better about Ryan Murphy’s long-term upside if he looked like the dynamic skating, attacking, offensive defenseman that he was projected to become but was just making a few too many mistakes defensively. Instead, I think he has made modest strides defensively and positionally, but that will will never be his strength. And along the way trying too hard not to make mistakes, he has seemingly buried his upside as the rookie who could fly up the ice with the puck even if he was not sure exactly what he was going to do with it in the end.
Looking forward to 2017-18
I am on record as predicting that Ryan Murphy will be traded before the start of the 2017-18 season. He is suddenly 24 years old and about to be passed by another wave of younger defensemen, and he likely is not even the best option for a #7 or #8 depth defenseman. If he is still in Raleigh come September, he will be in the dog fight for a depth defenseman role between #6 and #8 at the NHL level.
But I think best for him and probably the Hurricanes too is that he gets a fresh start elsewhere. I think the remaining hope for Murphy as a regular NHLer will only come through a complete reset that sees a new organization tell him to get back to his roots and strengths as a skating puck-carrying defenseman and then living with the inevitable mixed results while he tries to build his game from the ground up. He could be a great fit for Las Vegas or another team that needs offense and can fit some risk into a #6 slot maybe while rebuilding.
What say you Canes fans?
Do you agree with my prediction that Ryan Murphy will be gone before the start of the 2017-18 season? Do you think a fresh start is the best thing for him?
If he stays, where do you see Ryan Murphy slotting coming out of preseason and into the regular season?
Previous report card articles