Ryan Murphy: the greatest hockey player you probably never knew

My wife Angela and I moved to her hometown of Cobourg in 2013 after almost 20 years in the Cambridge area. Along with saying good-bye to some good friends, I also had to walk away from another close-knit community. After three years, I had to give up my season ticket to the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.

Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images

During my time as a fan at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, I was able to watch the development of players like Jeff Skinner, now with the Buffalo Sabres; Anaheim Ducks star goaltender John Gibson; as well as Colorado Rockies captain Gabriel Landeskog. 

I was there in 2010, when Skinner scored his 50th goal with 11 seconds left in the last home game of the season. From my vantage point three rows up from the visiting teams goal, I was able to watch as Skinner picked up the puck at centre ice, eluded an opposing player and deked out the goalie to score number 50. Incredible.

But the most amazing player I have ever seen, OHL or NHL, was also on that team. Standing 5 ’10" and weighing 175 pounds, Ryan Murphy remains the greatest player I have ever had the pleasure to watch.

Maybe you never heard of him. But if you did, you know he was never able to continue his dominance during his transition into the NHL. But in my eyes, he remains in a class all his own.

The offensive-playing defenseman was like Bobby Orr of his generation. He could pick up the puck from behind his own net and turn on the jets. Opposing players had no choice but to simply watch as he flew by. He also had a laser-beam slap shot and pinpoint accuracy.

I can’t count the number of times I broke out in laughter when Murphy would start one of his end-to-end rushes. His talent just left me shaking my head. How could he have just made that play? How could a relatively smaller player fire a puck so hard and so accurate? He also had an incredible knack to walk the blue line — where a defenseman moves the puck off the boards of the opposing teams blue line and then skates backwards to the middle of the ice in order to create a better chance to shoot and score. No one did this move better than Murphy.

He was predicted to go high during the 2011 NHL draft and during a segment on Hockey Night in Canada, Don Cherry predicted that Murphy would go number one in the 2011 draft and placed him in the same category as first-round pick legends like Steven Stamkos and Rick Nash. 

“This kid is dynamite,” said Cherry, when describing Murphy.

Though he didn’t go number one in the draft, he was picked by the Carolina Hurricanes 12th overall and signed a three-year, entry-level contract. He was also reunited with his Kitchener Rangers teammate Jeff Skinner.

At the start of the 2011 NHL season, the 18-year-old remained with the Rangers in order to develop his game a little more before making the permanent move to the NHL. In addition, staying in the OHL would give him more time to perpare for the bigger and stronger NHL stars.

And then it happened.

On Nov. 4, 2011, during a game against the Niagara IceDogs, Murphy picked up the puck behind his own net. Before he could take a stride up ice, he was hammered by Tomas Kühnhackl. It left  him motionless on the ice. The hit was so violent, so vicious and so unnecessary, that Kühnhackl ended up with a 20-game suspension. The IceDogs goon had lined up Murphy from a long distance out and actually left his feet to deliver the blow to the unsuspecting player.

Ryan Murphy was never the same. 

He remained with the Kitchener Rangers and in 2012 and was named captain. But some of the magic had disappeared from his game. He seemed a little timid and was lacking some of the confidence which set him apart from other players.

On Feb. 21, 2013, Ryan Murphy made his NHL debut with the Carolina Hurricanes. But he was soon sent down to the farm team. It was a process which happened again after being traded to Minnesota Wild and again after joining the New Jersey Devils. It was eight years of struggle for Murphy, leaving him wondering if hockey was over him.

Offers seemed to be drying up until Murphy found his way to Eastern Europe playing for the Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in 2019-2020. It was a move which seemed to fit and he scored 23 points in 56 games. He was then traded to HC Dinamo Minsk for eight games, but it was time to come home. 

When he returned to North America, he was offered a position with the Henderson Silver Knights, farm team of the Las Vegas Knights. He was a brand new player and led all AHL defensemen in scoring with 27 points in 37 games. He also earned the Eddie Shore Award as the best defensemen in the AHL and a place on the Pacific Division All-Star team.

Murphy has now signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings for the 2021-2022 season. The two-way deal will see Murphy move between the Red Wings and the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins. 

While Murphy has played professional hockey for more than 10 years, he is only 28 and seems to be ready to give the NHL another shot.

I think it might be his time to shine and I can wait to laugh at his magic moments once again.

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