I am mostly convinced the Flames should expend their first round pick on a forward this year. The forwards corps of this org are rather dismal outside of one or two bright spots, and even those guys aren’t guaranteed to be impact guys in the NHL. In fact, I’d say you can count the number of forwards who project to be consistent top-6 producers on no hands, if you catch my drift.
However, it may be prudent to picka defender if a very high value guy happens to fall to Calgary. If the most obvious best player available at 13 is a blue-liner, I have no doubt the Flames will grab him. Especially since the orgs back-end depth took a great, big hit this summer thanks to Erixon-gate.
One guy who may fall to Calgary if everything breaks right is Ryan Murphy. A relatively diminutive defender at 5’10 and 175 pounds, Murphy has nevertheless spent a lot of time at the top of most draft charts thanks to his huge counting numbers and array of high-end skills. His 26 goals and 79 points were good for second on the Kitchener Rangers this season and are just shy of some of the forwards we’ve looked at thus far (Bartschi and McNeill). To put that total in further perspective, the only OHL defenseman to outscore Murphy this year was former first-rounder Ryan Ellis (101 points!) who has been one of the profilic junior hockey point-getters from the back-end in the last decade. Ellis is also about two years older than Murphy, who was born in March 1993.
How good are Murphy’s results? Scott Reynonlds puts them in context over at Copper and Blue here. Reynolds calculated the NHL equivalency rate for each draft eligilble defender this year and found that Murphy was the only one above the .300 PPG mark (0.386). At that rate, Murphy would project to score about 31 points in a full NHL season as a 17-year old. Keep in mind that only 46 NHL defensemen totaled 30 or more points last season.
Reynolds went one step further and compared Murphy’s NHLE to other first rounder defenders picked between 2006-2010. Here is the list:
Again, only Ellis is superior. Notable names like Dew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Cam Fowler and Victor Hedman trail Murphy. That is some heady company.
Of course, counting numbers are problematic in terms of truly assessing a players value and moreso with defenders since their more primary concern is not given up chances and goals against. When the output is this compelling, however, it’s extremely diifficult to ignore.
Not that Murphy’s qualitatives are lacking. Aside from being small, there doesn’t seem to be too many holes in his game. Corey Pronman describes him in glowing terms:
It’s hard to start a write-up of Ryan Murphy without headlining his skating ability, as that tool is really what drives his value so much. It’s a 65 grade tool and there is so much to like about how Ryan Murphy skates—his top speed, acceleration, lateral movement and edge control. He can get to top speed within a few strides that he generates off quick legs and that top speed is very dangerous to the point where he will make NHL defenders back up an extra few steps to keep him in front of them. Murphy moves well from a standstill and can make people miss by out-angling them and being elusive. Murphy also does not shy from using his best weapon, frequently taking the puck out from behind his net and taking it deep or skating around defenders in the offensive zone. Sometimes he can get overzealous when trying to create offense but he doesn’t make a high amount of bad decisions either.
Murphy’s puck skills are plus, with his ability to handle the puck at high speed being very good. His passes are crisp and accurate with his distribution skills being quite very good and for a player commonly labeled a puck-rusher, he sees the ice at a high level too. That is a good sign as likely when he gets to the pro game, he will likely be coached into toning down some of his superman acts with the puck and having the ability to be an above-average playmaker will help his power play value. When Murphy has the puck, he has the look of a unique player in how he moves around, makes people miss, and is aware of his surroundings. His shot is decent, and when he gets a full wind-up he can put some fine velocity on it.
The physical game is the biggest question mark on Murphy as he comes in at around 5’10", 165 lbs. and how he’ll handle that aspect at the top level is the biggest deterrent to his draft value. To his credit, Murphy isn’t afraid of contact but there are several times at the Junior level where bigger players would simply outmatch him. His defensive game has come a ways since last year as well. While I wouldn’t say his positioning is good, it’s decent for a Junior player but still grades as below-average. The lack of physical ability is the obvious liability going forward. He isn’t exactly completely shy from playing physical but there is nothing that stands out in that regard and how he builds his body in the coming years will be a significant key to his pro career and a risk for whoever drafts him.
Strengths: high-end skating, puck handling. Quality shot, on-ice vision.
Weaknesses: Size and strength.
Despite the size issue, Murphy is a legit prospect. He scored at the same rate as probable top-5 pick Gabriel Landeskog (1.25 PPG) in the same league and on the same team, excpet he did it from the blueline. His size is obviously the only reason he would ever fall withiin range of the Flames, which coincidentally is the same reason the Nashville Predators were able to grab Ryan Ellis at 11 in 2009. NHL Central Scouting ranked Murphy 9th amongst NA skaters while the ISS has him 8th overall. Pronman ranked Murphy the 6th best prospect.
As mentioned, I’d prefer the Flames target a forward in the first round. However, if Murphy falls a la Cam Fowler in 2010, I’d have absolutely no problems with the Flames scooping him up.