There never was a question of whether Ryan Murray had more than enough in his hockey tool box to live up being the second overall pick of the 2012 NHL draft
The defenseman that the Devils acquired cheap in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night always has had the kills to be a force in both ends. His skating ability, decision making and hockey sense jump out.
If Murray had just been able to see more time on the ice and less in the trainer’s room, the 6-foot-1, 206-pounder probably wouldn’t have been pawned off for a measly fifth-round draft pick when the Blue Jackets were desperate for more cap space on the eve of this year’s free agent market opening.
If Murray had got control of the disc issue in his lower back a little sooner, the Western Canadian probably would be happily looking forward to another season in Columbus instead of savoring the fresh start that he’ll get next season playing for the upstart Devils.
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But that wasn’t his fate. Due to all kinds of injuries, Murray played in just 367 of Columbus’ 598 regular season and playoff games since his rookie season in 2013-14, or 61.4 percent of them. While there have been flashes of the brilliance that was predicted of him, sometimes in long stretches, the missed games and playing through things led to disappointment that fueled trade rumors for a few years.
This story still could have a happy ending though because Murray, who turned 27 in September, was moved to the Devils as a healthy player who has reason to believe that he’ll stay that way.
“The seven years, I look back on them, and in a way it seems like forever and in a way it just kind of flew by,” Murray said Friday in a Zoom interview with Devils reporters. “I think the knowledge of going through some hard times and going through injuries, going through being all over the lineup, being through tons of trade talks and rumors and all this stuff … it’s a learning experience. I feel like I’ve become a better person and a better player after everything in Columbus.”
Here are 5 takeaways from Murray’s first interview as a Devil:
HIS BACK IS GOOD, AND MAYBE FOR GOOD
Murray was hampered for a few seasons due to a disc injury that led 2 ½ months of missed games this past season from mid-December until March 1.
The issue finally was revolved during the layoff when he traveled to Ontario to be examined by Dr. Stuart McGill, a prominent back specialist who provided hope that the problem with daily exercises, stretching and lifting.
“I’m optimistic,” Murray said from his home in Saskatchewan. “I’ve heard different stories of guys with similar issues, even a guy like (Hall of Famer Mario) Lemieux, who struggled with it for a long time and then he was able to play for quite a while after that.
“Stuart McGill, he really clarified a lot of things for me just in day-to-day life. Staying on top of it is the most important thing, and it’s obviously an everyday thing from here on out.”
So far, so good.
Murray returned in March for Columbus’ final three games before the coronavirus pause, then he played in all nine of their playoff games, including a career-high 36 minutes in a five-overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Aug. 11.
“I’m really optimistic with the way that I felt and in the playoffs and the way that I’m feeling now,” Murray said. “It’s definitely positive thing.”
TIME FOR A CHANGE
Murray thinks that his trade could be really good for his career, which he believes needs a fresh start.
“I think it was kind of time,” he said. ‘Things just kind of happen sometimes. Things don’t work out and it seemed like it was going down that road in Columbus. At times, I guess it teetered. It looked like it might happen, it might not … Then when you get that (trade) call, there’s a lot of different emotions that go through your head, but at the same time it’s really exciting to go to a new experience and a new team. I’m really excited to get going.”
WHAT MURRAY BRINGS …
Here is how Murray plays, in his words:
“I think I’m just a two-way defender. Defense first and jump up in the rush to pitch in offensively when I can. Do my job at the back end and try and play a tight checking game. I’m kind of a pass-first guy.”
NOT LIVING UP TO HIS DRAFT HYPE
“My career in Columbus was all over the map. I know the type of player that I am and I know what I can do out there. I don’t think that’s changed much.
“I think as you go through pro hockey … I think some of the struggles were a good thing. I learned a lot in Columbus – in good times and bad – and I’m looking forward to using that in the future.”
Before Murray was compared to Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Niedermeyer during his Western Hockey League years, he grew up admiring the Devils great, who starred on their 1995, 2000 and 2003 Cup-winning teams.
“He was definitely one of my favorite players,” Murray said. “My dad kind of pointed him out when I was younger and obviously he was one of the best players, so he was an easy guy to like and watch.”
Murray also has a present tie to the Devils. Fellow Saskatchewan-born blueliner Damon Severson grew up about 80 miles from Murray. They played against each other as kids and later on in the WHL, which led to some dinners together.
Murray called Severson after being traded to the Devils for a quick chat. They’re looking forwards to being teammates, maybe even as a defense pair.
“We’ll see what the coaches decide,” Murray said. “But (Severson) is a great player. He sees the ice well. He’d be a pleasure to play with, for sure.”
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