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Josh Beneteau The Hockey Writers

Published on Saturday, May 21, 2016





Blue Jackets Fans Don’t Need to Worry About Ryan Murray

Some Columbus fans are hoping that this year’s top three pick in the draft pans out better than the last one. But it’s hard to say Ryan Murray’s career is a write-off.

Ok so maybe it’s not that hard.

But being taken second overall, especially in a draft where many scouts projected him to go first, would have put a lot of pressure on Murray. Then add the fact that the NHL went on another lockout a few months later, delaying his NHL debut. And if that wasn’t enough, he has missed long stretches of games due to various injuries.

All of this simply proves: the best of Ryan Murray has yet to come.

Sure the first four years (well three seasons of actual games) couldn’t have gone much worse. This past season, he played in all 82 games for the basement dwelling Blue Jackets, a career first.  But when he takes the ice for the Blue Jackets in October, Murray will still be only 23. And as history has shown, defencemen rarely peak that early.

Just Look at Victor Hedman

When finding a comparison for how Murray’s career could project, the best example has to be Victor Hedman. The Swedish defenceman was taken second overall in 2009 by the Tampa Bay Lightning and is now considered one of the premier defencemen in the NHL. But like Murray, his career started off a little slow. Just look at these tweets from last year’s playoffs, when he helped lead the Lightning to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.

For the first four seasons of his career, Hedman was a bust, or at least average. Just like Murray has been. But to really compare the two, just look at how each did in their first 160 games (which is the total Murray has played so far).

Hedman had eight goals and 47 points through his first 160 games. Murray has nine goals and 49 points in his.

Almost identical.

Nearly half of Murray’s career goals and points came this past year, where he had four goals and 25 points, both career highs. Add in his career-highs in games played, shots (90) and average ice time (22:50), and 2015-16 was a season that showed what kind of player Murray can be.

But in order to go from potential draft bust to franchise player, Murray can’t just have one season like this one. He needs to keep the pace up.

As proof, let’s look at Hedman’s career again.

Hedman had his big breakout year in 2013-14, his fifth in the league. That year he posted career-highs in goals (13), assist (42) and points (55). But this jump didn’t come from an increased role on the team. That year his average ice-time in all situations remained inline with the rest of his career. He averaged 22:26 total with 2:09 shorthanded and 2:29 on the powerplay, both right on average with his entire career.

Since then, Hedman has become a key player for the Lightning and a big reason why they have reached the conference finals in back-to-back seasons. If Murray continues in this direction, making last season a frequent one, Hedman’s numbers prove that an increase in production can happen and his value to his team can grow. Even if Murray has seemingly found his role with the team, maximizing that opportunity is the next step.

Victor Hedman

Victor Hedman. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Murray Doesn’t Have to Do It Alone

The other key that should help Murray in his development is the players around him in Columbus. The Blue Jackets are building a solid backend; drafting, developing and trading for multiple young, talented defencemen. This should help lighten the load off Murray as he no longer has to be “the guy” for this team.

The biggest name on that defence is Seth Jones. The fourth-overall pick in 2013 was the return Columbus got in the Ryan Johansen trade and instantly gave Murray a partner. Even though the trade happened in early January, Murray took 40 per cent of his shifts alongside Jones, spread out over all situations.

When asked about the switch to Columbus in early February, Jones told the Edmonton Sun that Murray had been a key part of him adjusting to his new team.

“I’m playing with a good D partner in Ryan Murray, he’s a very smart player, he makes my life easy. Anytime you can get that on the ice, it’s great,” Jones said.

The two players will be able to help each other out too. For one, they shoot opposite hands which gives each player a defined side and doesn’t force one player to play in an uncomfortable situation. Second, they both are very young, with arguably 12-15 years left in their careers. Playing together now will help build chemistry for when the rest of the team catches up and is ready for a playoff run.

Add in Jack Johnson, Dalton Prout, David Savard and a whole crop of defence prospects, the Blue Jackets seem pretty set in the position. Even if all the prospects pan out, there is a lot of hope for Columbus fans on defence, especially if Murray continues to grow.

Ryan Murray. (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)

Ryan Murray. (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)

Only Time Will Tell

It’s completely cliché but yes, it is still too early to definitively say if Ryan Murray was a draft bust or not. History and numbers seem to show that Murray is in line to grow into a top defender in the league, but it’s all up to him.

The Blue Jackets management seem confident in his play. They just signed him to a new two-year contract that will pay him an average of $2.85 million a year. Another strong summer (including his current stint with Canada at the World Championships) will help his development too. Blue Jackets fans will just have to be patient.

The best days of Ryan Murray have yet to come.


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