April 15, 2012
Much of the focus of the hockey world in May turns to the NHL playoffs and the CHL championship series', but there's still a special spot on the TV on days off reserved for the IIHF World Championship. There are always a few storylines to keep Canadians interested, and a new one popped up Sunday, courtesy of the Pipeline Show.
As reported Saturday evening by Dean Millard via Twitter, Hockey Canada has talked to and is expected to invite 2012 draft eligible defenceman Ryan Murray to join their entry to the Men's World Championship in Sweden/Finland.
"We have confirmed that Ryan Murray has been approached by Hockey Canada to play in the World Championship.Should be announced tomorrow," was how Dean's tweet read.
As expected, the instant reaction from fans was surprise but that quickly gave way to speculation of what this may mean for the entry draft this June.
As the post notes, Kevin Lowe is the general manager for Team Canada at the tournament which takes place in Helsinki and Stockholm from May 4-20. Kevin Lowe is also the president of the Edmonton Oilers, a team in dire need of defencemen, and keepers of the No. 1 pick in this spring's NHL entry draft in Pittsburgh.
In the days preceding the lottery, the general consensus was that the Columbus Blue Jackets, who had the best chance of winning the lottery, would select the highly-touted Nail Yakupov from the Sarnia Sting, leaving the best defenceman in the draft, Ryan Murray of the WHL's Everett Silvertips, to the Oilers. The issue for Edmonton is that, with six straight seasons out of the playoffs, there is more pressure to make this season, and if Murray is NHL ready, using the No. 1 pick on a defenceman is a terrific way to take a guy who will fit into your top six.
What better way than to see if Murray can play against men than by playing Murray against men and getting a first hand look? Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal has hypothesized that Brent Sutter's addition to the Team Canada coaching staff could factor in to how the Oilers begin a look at possible replacement for Tom Renney, should the team decide to fire their coach of two seasons:
Sutter and Lowe will be working fairly closely with Canada's world team, which will give Lowe a first-hand look at how Sutter operates as a coach. Sutter and Oilers GM Steve Tambellini have a short history with the New York Islanders in 1980-81, but both played junior with Lethbridge in the Western Hockey League. Albeit, not overlapping, but with the same franchise.
Did we say that Sutter is also the owner of the Red Deer Rebels, the same team Oilers rookie centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played on? And that he was RNH's staunchest fan before the 2011 draft when people were going to him for scouting reports on the kid before the Oilers picked first? [Edmonton Journal]
The situation on defence is bleak enough in Edmonton that one local commentator (I can't remember exactly who) suggested that any of Canada's defencemen at the world junior tournament could be on the Oilers' top six next season.
On the important side, is Murray ready for the tournament? Nick Patterson of the Everett Herald didn't comment on that necessarily on that, but pointed out that the move of bringing an un-drafted rookie to the tournament is unprecedented. Murray is listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, so there's no question he's big enough to compete with men. He had 31 points in 49 games with Everett this season and managed to be an "even" plus/minus on a team that surrendered 83 more goals than it allowed. Despite a rough outing against Russia at the world junior, he saw a number of key minutes on the Canadian blueline, minutes normally reserved for older, more experienced — and drafted — defencemen.
Still, there's reason for concern for taking a blueliner high in the draft. Defencemen selected No.1 almost never pan out, so giving Murray a look against the big boys would be a smart move on the part of the Oilers. If Murray sees minutes in the World Championships, well, that's a pretty strong indicator of how highly the hockey world thinks of him. Remember, Team Canada went with a pair of rookies a year out of junior on last year's squad in Jordan Eberle and Jeff Skinner, but they did pass on Nugent-Hopkins in shaping the roster.
Keep in mind, of course, nothing official has come out of Hockey Canada on this matter, but we should know this week.