As a defenceman, Ryan Murphy’s offensive skill set is so unique it’s hard to imagine comparing him to anyone else. And yet he is very often compared and confused with other people.
On the ice, early in his career with the Kitchener Rangers, he was dubbed "Ryan Ellis Light" and weighed against the smooth-skating standout blueliner from the Windsor Spitfires.
"I told him the day we drafted him, we will never make that comparison as long as he's a Kitchener Ranger,” said head coach and general manager Steve Spott. "It's not fair to him. Ryan Ellis is a world-class player, but Ryan Murphy is a world-class player in a different way."
Off the ice, on Twitter, he is regularly mistaken by people as Ryan Murphy - the co-creator, writer and director of the hit TV show Glee.
"I like to joke around and tell them the show is cancelled until further notice," said the hockey-playing Murphy of the show’s fans. "I have no idea how they get me mixed up? I’m pretty sure I have a hockey player in my profile picture, but it happens.
"I have fun with it."
But the plain fact is Ryan Murphy isn’t like anyone else.
He's a defenceman that can skate and carry the puck like a top forward - and can score like one to boot. Last year with the Rangers, he finished the regular season with 11 goals and 43 assists in 49 games and finished with 22 points in 16 playoff games.
"He's one-of-a-kind," said fellow Rangers defenceman and friend Ben Fanelli. "He's got quite the offensive mentality, but also maintains good defensive play in his own zone, too. It’s probably a little more offence, but it’s a gift that I’ve really never seen in another player."
There have been many times during Murphy's career when people have wondered whether he might be better suited as a forward given his 5-foot-11, 176-pound frame.
"When I was growing up, there were a lot of people who said I would never make it as a defenceman," said the 12th overall pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011. "But I love defence. I love the play being in front of me and not behind me."
This season the OHL instituted a new rule for delay of game when a player refuses to advance the puck - unofficially nicknamed the "Ryan Murphy Rule" - after an incident against the London Knights in Game 1 of the Western Conference final in 2011. During that game, Murphy corralled the puck in the Rangers zone and kept it for what seemed like an eternity when none of the trapping Knights were willing to challenge him on the forecheck.
"Are you going to go chase Ryan Murphy behind the net or are you going to change the line?" then-Knights coach Mark Hunter told reporters after that game. "He's such a beautiful skater. We're going, 'OK, we're going to chase him.' He's going to go one way and he's going to go all the way down the ice."
On Friday night in the Rangers opening game of the 2012-13 season in Mississauga, Murphy was back behind the net with the puck, tempting the Steelheads' forwards to come and chase him.
"I could hear (the referees) giving it to me to move the puck, but what am I going to do?" said Murphy with a smile. "No one's forcing me, so I'll just wait back there and wait for somebody to come get me."
Spott said that's the attitude he's come to expect from his star defender.
"Murph loves to be the centre of attention," said the coach, who will also helm Canada's world junior squad this year. "He's able to keep the puck back there and he's able to do things. That's why teams are pretty passive against him when he does have the puck."
Around the team, Murphy is known as the prankster with a bubbly personality. According to Spott, the 19-year-old could be one of the most stealthy "shoe-check" perpetrators – a prank where a foreign substance, usually a condiment, is secretly put on someone's shoe – in the league.
"He's a lot of fun to be around," said Spott. "He keeps everyone on their toes. He's definitely in a lot of ways in the clubhouse lawyer and he keeps everyone honest."
Fanelli thinks it's also Murphy's attitude towards the game that sets him apart from other players.
"He's got the kind of personality I think most guys wish they had," said Fanelli. "He never worries about a bad game. A lot of guys will get on the bus and dwell on it, but he's good, he just brushes it off and he's got a smile on his face."
With no NHL season on the horizon due to the lockout, the Aurora, Ont., native came to Kitchener instead of heading to Carolina for pro camp. There's no doubt, however, that when the lockout ends Murphy will be heading to the NHL – and Spott believes he has the potential to stay.
"Mentally, he's there," said Spott of making the pro jump. "His skill to play at that pace is there, the challenge for him is going to be continuing to prove to play against those guys who are 6-3 and 6-4 and 210-plus pounds. The challenge is going to be to defend those guys, to defend them wisely because he may not be able to go strength-for-strength against them. So it's making sure his body is in the right position and he's got an active stick, if he does that ... he's got a chance to play (in the NHL) this year."
And as the junior coach of back-to-back NHL rookie of the year winners in Carolina's Jeff Skinner and Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog, Spott said there's a possibility Murphy could give Kitchener a Calder Trophy hat-trick.
"Don’t count him out, I'm telling you," said Spott. "If he gets the ice there (in Carolina) and earns power-play time, don't count him out (of Calder contention). He's a special player and he doesn't have any threshold to panic and that's why those guys can play at that level. Skinner was the same way, if you have nervous hands or nervous energy you might not be able to succeed young, but (Murphy) thinks he's 35 years old, so I think he has a chance.”
- Sports & Recreation
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- Steve Spott