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Murphy finds perfect fit in Iowa

by Tom Witosky AHL On The Beat

When Ryan Murphy learned late last June he had been traded from the Carolina Hurricanes to the Calgary Flames, he figured a change of scenery would probably be good for him.

After five lackluster seasons of going back and forth from Raleigh, North Carolina, to the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers, the Hurricanes’ top draft choice in 2011 assumed that new surroundings would be helpful in getting him back to playing his kind of hockey.

“Looking back, I think I was a little spoiled when I came into the league, going straight up to Carolina,” the 24-year-old Aurora, Ontario, native said. “I lost the offensive flair that pretty much got me to be drafted so high.”

What Murphy didn’t anticipate was that in very short order, he would be a free agent without a team. The Flames front office, taking less than 24 hours to finalize the trade for Murphy and goalie Eddie Lack, bought out Murphy’s contract.

“It was a crazy day,” Murphy said. “I was traded to Calgary then bought out by Calgary and then I had a few teams that were interested me. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.”

But sometimes disappointment turns into opportunity; the Minnesota Wild called the next day, looking for veteran defensive depth for its NHL and AHL teams, to determine if Murphy might be interested in signing a two-way contract.

“It was all out of the blue,” Murphy said. “There were a few teams interested in me; I was even ready to sign with one when we got the call from Minnesota. After I talked with (Minnesota general manager) Chuck Fletcher, it was a no-brainer.”

Derek Lalonde, Iowa’s head coach, agreed. Murphy was one of several key-veteran signings designed to bolster depth for the Minnesota Wild and improve Iowa’s chances to qualify for the AHL playoffs, all while playing in what is widely considered the most competitive division in the league. 

Murphy’s signing has helped Iowa begin a push to qualify for the playoffs, but also provided Murphy with a chance to show his skills. During a recent nine-game run with Minnesota following the injury of top-4 defenseman Jared Spurgeon, Murphy scored one goal, had one assist and was a plus-5.

“We saw an opportunity to get a young veteran player with a lot of NHL experience who would help us down here and could help Minnesota if needed,” Lalonde said. “So far, that has worked out well for both teams.”

Lalonde attributed much of Murphy’s success to his willingness to buy in to the Wild’s approach. After a slow start with Iowa, Murphy has 14 points in 24 games and is a mainstay on the Iowa power play and penalty kill – both ranking in the AHL top 10 special team categories.

“He came in here and has become a really important part of the locker room,” Lalonde said. “That isn’t always the case, but with Ryan, it’s been a really good thing for him and us.”

Murphy said his move to the Wild has helped him revitalize his offensive game while developing a better approach to playing on the blue line.

“The knock on me coming up was always high-risk, high-reward,” he said. “I think I’ve narrowed the risk factor in my game. At a certain point, depending on the score and time, I will take a chance much like any player. But I have learned a lot about when it is the appropriate time to take those risks and when not to take them.”

Murphy gave a lot of credit to Iowa associate coach David Cunniff, who works with Iowa’s defensemen. Murphy said Cunniff impressed him because “he is always working on something. He is always giving you pointers or changing stuff up because it is more effective.

“He has told me that he wants me to make plays, but at the same time he wants me to be responsible,” Murphy added. “He has been keeping me in check but he does let me play.”

Murphy said the work with Cunniff made him more confident when he was called up to Minnesota to replace Spurgeon. Gone, he said, was a lot of the indecision that bothered him in the past. Even getting another shot with an NHL team didn’t seem so daunting.

“I was nervous, but I also felt like I had nothing to lose,” Murphy said. “When I was back in Carolina, I would go in too scared to make a mistake. If that happened, I’d be benched or scratched the next game. With the way this team plays, it’s been refreshing for me because the team’s style fits how I play.”

Murphy also attributed his good play to defenseman Jonas Brodin, with whom he was paired. He said Brodin “is easily the best defensive partner I’ve played with.

“He made it so easy for me,” Murphy said. “We didn’t even talk that much on the ice. We just played well off of each other.”

Murphy said his top goals are to improve his skills so he is ready to go back to Minnesota if the time comes. It’s also about helping Iowa get into the playoffs for the first time.

“We are only getting better,” he said. “Obviously, we will have games that won’t go our way. But, when you buy in, you are going to win. This is a good team.”