Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 06/24/11 at 10:54 PM ET
On Friday night, the Hurricanes did what they said they would do. They drafted the “best player available” by selecting defenseman Ryan Murphy from the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. Most pundits had him going in the top ten, and many had him pegged to be selected eighth. While flashy (and big) forwards like Joel Armia and Sven Bartschi were still available, they went with little defenseman, who is just 5’11 and 176 pounds.
I’m not a big fan.
Carolina’s traditional modus operandi has been to draft defensemen in late rounds to load up the system and to acquire NHL-ready defensemen via trade. They have not had any success when they’ve selected a defenseman in the first round. I’ll get to that in a bit, but first, I’ll look at Murphy.
To be fair, Murphy is highly skilled and has been compared to (gasp) Bobby Orr because of his offensive acumen. Last season, he was the second-leading scorer on the Rangers, with 79 (26/53) points in 63 games played. He’s a power play specialist, which is what the Canes need now (not four or five years down the road). I’m not one of these guys who likes to pretend that I know anything about these guys. I don’t. All I know is what I’ve read and what I can surmise from the stats. He’s not tough at all, and that makes him entirely unlike Orr. He’s extremely offensive-minded and pretty crafty. That’s where the Orr comparisons come in.
Murphy is young. Really young. He turned 18 in March and has been playing quite well at the OHL level, but he’s going to need some ripening before he can make the jump to professional hockey. He’ll go back to Kitchener for two more seasons, then probably a while in Charlotte. He’s a very talented player with a lot of developing to do. It may be a while before we see him in the NHL, if we ever see him.
Since moving to North Carolina, the team has used its first round selection to pick a defenseman just four times, and none of them worked out. In 1997, they picked American defenseman Nikos Tselios (cousin of Chris Chelios). In 1999, they picked American “defenseman” Avi Tanabe. In 2001, they picked Russian defenseman Igor Knyazev. Finally, in 2005, they picked American defenseman Jack Johnson.
Tselios played two career NHL games (both with the Hurricanes in 2001-02), registering no points. He was out of hockey completely after the 2006-07 season.
Tanabe had a lot of promise, but a lot of injuries slowed his career. In fact, concussions ended his career in 2007-08. He played 449 NHL games, most of them with the Canes. He was sidelined in the 2001-02 season with concussions, and again in 2007-08, when his career was ended. Given that, it might sound insensitive to say that he was a headache, but even when healthy, he was inconsistent at best. He had the nickname “Avi” because there was no D in his game, and there shouldn’t be in his name either.
Knyazev played two full seasons in the AHL, then faded away in the KHL, finally retiring in 2009.
Johnson. Um. That’s still a sensitive subject around here. He refused to play in Carolina. Ultimately, a trade with the Kings sent Canes alternate captain and fan favorite Tim Gleason this way, so it wasn’t a complete loss, but it wasn’t a pleasant situation.
In that 2005 draft, Carolina had nine overall picks. It was a complete disaster. Only Jack Johnson ever played in the NHL, but never for the Canes. Of the remaining eight, only one is still playing hockey at any level at all. Kyle Lawson, who was taken in the seventh round, is on the Charlotte Checkers roster. Six of the nine picks were defensemen, and when that plan proved to be a disaster, Jim Rutherford vowed never to do that again.
I’d have much rather traded down, or just taken one of the big forwards. The Canes need help sooner than later, and Murphy won’t be ready any time soon.
Carolina has five picks tomorrow, but we still might see them move the rights to one of their UFAs for another pick. Or an NHL player.
I hope that I’m proven wrong about this, but defensemen, especially small ones and especially ones as young as Murphy take a very long time to get NHL legs.
Murphy may have the Jeff Skinner stamp of approval, but I’m not ready to do that.
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David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.