The first professional season for Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Ryan Murphy began strong, faltered late and answered few questions about the former first-round pick's future.
Murphy, the 12th overall selection in the 2011 NHL draft, appeared in 48 games—but only 10 in the second half of the season—for Carolina in 2013-14.
His final NHL total of 12 points fell far short of expectations for the offensive defenseman and power-play specialist, especially considering his 48 points in 54 OHL games in 2012-13.
Despite the benefit of starting 60.9 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, Murphy still fell in the negatives in shot-attempt differential (Corsi rating), per Extra Skater data.
Murphy blossomed as a blue-line playmaking machine in the AHL, scoring at a point-per-game pace as he spent the majority of the spring with the Charlotte Checkers.
But a worrisome trend is emerging: The undersized 5'11", 185-pound defenseman consistently dominates against lesser competition, but such success has not yet been duplicated or even briefly flashed in the big leagues.
Murphy played in 21 'Canes wins and averaged 16 minutes, 32 seconds of ice time in those games. Murphy also played in 27 'Canes losses and averaged 19:38 of ice time.
Clearly, the larger the role and greater the responsibility given to Murphy, the worse the team as a whole fared.
Even the power play, touted as Murphy's greatest strength entering last fall, proved more effective when No. 7 was out of the lineup.
|With Murphy in Lineup||22||162||13.4%|
|Without Murphy in Lineup||19||119||16.0%|
Interestingly, through March 16, the opposite was actually the case: The Hurricanes' power-play conversion rate was 13.9 percent with Murphy in the lineup and 9.9 percent without him.
The unit finally found its stride in the season's final stretch, however, scoring 11 goals out of 42 opportunities (a whopping 26.2 percent conversion rate) in the season's final 14 games. Murphy appeared in only two of the 14, and the 'Canes did not score a power-play tally in either contest.
Murphy's struggles and inefficiencies of 2013-14 will be quickly forgotten if he can grow from his experiences in 2014-15.
The 'Canes desperately need him to.
Beneath first-pairing studs Andrej Sekera and Justin Faulk, Carolina appears again destined for second-pairing turmoil: It has only a vast but star-lacking cast of depth defensemen to choose from.
Ron Hainsey likely enters training camp as the most highly regarded player of the bunch, but it's implausible that any of John-Michael Liles, Jay Harrison or Tim Gleason will also emerge as a viable 20-minutes-a-night rearguard.
While a few free-agent options remain—Michael Del Zotto, Andre Benoit and Derek Morris stand out as the most worthwhile—the Hurricanes' best hope may be for Murphy to at last grow into a second-pairing role.
Unfortunately, Murphy hasn't shown much chemistry with Hainsey in the past. The youngster spent 23.5 percent of his 2013-14 ice time paired with Hainsey (he was paired with only Harrison more often) but registered zero points in those 165 minutes of shared ice time, according to HockeyAnalysis.com.
The question may ultimately rest on No. 7's ability to add more bulk to his small frame. While his excellent skating ability is well-suited to be used as a hockey-style "point guard," Murphy can't be sufficiently trusted in his own zone until he shows more strength in board and net battles.
The power play remains a priority as well and perhaps one where Murphy could really make his presence felt.
New coach Bill Peters stressed the power play as one of his major points of focus entering 2014-15. Murphy has the ideal skill set to play quarterback in an umbrella-style formation, if the 'Canes do switch up their man-advantage tactics.
For a variety of reasons, a breakout season from Murphy could provide a much-needed boost to the Hurricanes in the coming year.