Puck-moving defensemen are a hot commodity in the NHL and numerous teams are seeking one out in order to bolster a playoff run. If only they could wait a few years, Ryan Murphy would be more than happy to offer his services.
Murphy, a 15-year-old blueliner with the York-Simcoe Express of Newmarket, Ont., is expected to be a top-five pick in the Ontario League draft this summer and it’s the way he roves that will be his meal ticket.
“I’ve yet to see a defenseman with the offensive capabilities he has,” said Express coach Maurice Catenacci. “He controls the game from the back end; he’s basically a quarterback.”
Through puckhandling and skating, Murphy is able to open up the ice for some of his equally gifted teammates up front, including Daniel Catenacci, Brandon Francisco and Jeffrey Di Nallo. With so much talent on one squad, you can forgive the youngsters if they’re already discussing the future.
“We talk about it all the time,” Murphy said. “Playing against each other (in the OHL); the world juniors – we all want to play there.”
And if you needed any more hints as to how Murphy plays, just look at the player a few years ahead of him who made noise at the Christmastime classic this year in Ottawa: Windsor star Ryan Ellis.
“Yeah, I really like him,” Murphy said. “Him and P.K. Subban.”
And there’s more than a few similarities present.
“(Murphy) likes to turn guys inside-out,” coach Catenacci said. “He likes the highlight reel plays.”
But while Ellis runs the show with his guile, Murphy's game-changing ability comes from pure speed, something scouts have forecast as being deadly.
Murphy even uses his puckhandling skills and offensive mind when he’s defending. At 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds, he’s obviously not a big kid on the ice, but that doesn’t stop him from making plays.
“I try to put myself in a position to get the puck,” Murphy said.
Added Catenacci: “He’s always waiting to pick off a puck.”
Murphy doesn’t see himself as a physical defenseman, but there is one skill he possesses that for someone like Catenacci, who has been around the game longer, is fun to see from the younger generation.
“He’s a kid that possesses a hip check,” the coach noted. “I think Ryan is the only kid I’ve seen who has mastered it.”
So, needless to say, anything involving open ice and Murphy should be a red flag for opponents, no matter which way the action is going.
One thing Murphy would like to work on is his overall defensive coverage, but so far this year the Express hasn’t suffered for it. The team is 29-3-0 and has scored exactly four times as many goals as it has conceded. As defending champions in the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA), York-Simcoe will play host in the post-season and if all goes well, the team will get a shot at the OHL Cup, too.
While Murphy is sure to be a high pick in the OHL draft, he has also fielded interest from NCAA schools, including Michigan. Where he lands next season is still up in the air, but one thing is for sure: You’ll see a lot of scouts following the kids in red, black and grey jerseys as the second season begins.
Prep Watch, which features minor hockey players destined to become big names in major junior or the NCAA, appears every Thursday, only on thehockeynews.com.
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