Tue Jan 31 01:40pm EST
Ryan Murray is not seeing his young team's improved play in terms of his own good fortune. The fact he's helped the once straggling Everett Silvertips join the playoff push speaks well for his capacities as a leader on the blueline.
The 18-year-old Murray, who was NHL Central Scouting's top-ranked blueliner in the North American midterm rankings, bears added responsibility as the captain of one of the Western Hockey League's youngest teams. The Silvertips were stuck on a meagre seven wins when he returned from representing Canada at the world junior hockey championship. Since Murray got back into the swing of the junior game, they've put together a little 5-5-0-1 run to get within four points of their conference's final playoff spot. Murray's also become a productive two-way defender, posting four goals and 12 points in 14 games this month.
"We're doing a lot of better as of late," says Murray, who will also captain Team Cherry in Wednesday's CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT, Sportsnet/TVA Sports). "We have a lot of young players and are starting to figure out what it takes each game and how we have to play. Everyone's been doing a really good job."
A high ankle sprain limited the 6-foot-1, 195-lb. Murray to 11 games before he left to wear the Maple Leaf. While many in the media seized on some costly mistakes he had in Canada's 6-5 semifinal loss to Russia, overall he exceeded the standard for an 18-year-old defender playing in his first WJHC. The effect he's had since returning to Everett could be a better barometer.
"It's always tough losing, we had a rough first half," says the native of White City, Sask. (pop. 1,113). "It's great that things are picking up now. I'm not even thinking about how it helps me. It's in the back of the mind, I guess you could say, but right now I'm focused on the team."
As Central Scouting's No. 3-ranked North American skater, Murray leads the WHL's Fab Five of draft-year defencemen that includes Edmonton's Griffin Reinhart, Red Deer's Mathew Dumba, Portland's Derrick Pouliot and injured Moose Jaw star Morgan Rielly. Dumba and Rielly might have higher ceilings. Murray, though, probably has the most refined game among that group, which means he will go in the top 10 picks this summer.
"I think that I still have a lot to prove. I can be more consistent and I can show off my offensive abilities a little bit more. I had a defensive role with Team Canada at the world juniors. My team in Everett, I just try to little bit more offensive."
2. Which NHL defenceman do you not necessarily compare yourself to, but think, "In two years I think I can play more like he does?"
"It's hard to say. I like [Chicago Blackhawks star] Duncan Keith because he's a really good defenceman who skates well, moves the puck well and is really smart. He's an outstanding player. If I could get to where he is, that would be great."
3. What teammate has had the most impact on you?
"Jaden Schwartz at the world junior. He's a great friend of mine, we grew up together a little bit [in Saskatchewan]. Just seeing the stuff he's been through in his life and being able to persevere and still be able to be a great player and a great person as well. He's somebody I've always looked up to even as a little kid. I try to follow him."
4. When you need to take your mind off hockey — unplug, go off the grid — what do you do?
"I play a little guitar at home. I kind of zone out in that sometimes. After a rough game or something I'll go and jam for a bit.
"I've been playing for about a year now. My roommate, Alex Theriau, he plays for Medicine Hat now, he's a draft pick of the Dallas Stars, he taught me. I've been getting a little better. I can't get read notes or anything. Alex just taught me how to play and I learn songs off YouTube."
5. If you could meet one person, living or dead, whom would it be?
"One person? That's a tough one. I think Wayne Gretzky, probably. Great hockey player. He's a legend in Canada and all of hockey. He'd be a great person to meet."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: Getty Images).