By Larry Wigge
What would any young hockey prospect want more than a chance to play against some of the best competition in the world?
Ryan Murray got just that opportunity, when he was called to join the Canadian national team at the world championships in Helsinki, Finland.
At 18 years, this was an invitation given to only Paul Karia -- also 18 -- in 1993.
"It was just a couple of hours before game time," Murray explained. "They said, 'You're going to play.' "
The White City, Saskatchewan, product, ranked second only to Nail Yakupov by NHL Central Scouting for the June draft, became one of the big boys, playing as a defensive partner with former Norris Trophy winner, Olympic gold medalist and Stanley Cup champion Duncan Keith of Chicago.
"It was kind of neat to see him out there with Keith tonight. The kid is just so composed," said coach Brent Sutter.
Said Keith, "He's been really impressive. For a guy his age to play like his has in this company is more than impressive."
"It was the first time I've ever been on the ice with NHLers and it was just cool to play and practise with them and see how they prepare. It puts everything in perspective," Murray said. "I think I have a lot of work to do this summer if I'm going to make the jump next year.
"The guys are so much stronger, so much faster, and everyone can make plays. It is a big jump. Some guys have been playing for 10-15 years. In the CHL, you're sometimes playing against 16-year-olds who just started working out. They're skilled, but still pretty weak in terms of their development. In the NHL, they are full-grown men."
That kind of presence is just the reason why the Columbus Blue Jackets made Murray of the Everett Silvertips their first pick -- second to Yakupov.
He played flawlessly against the best grown men in the world. That is the key with Murray -- the tougher the games get the bette he plays. His poise. His skating. The way he defends, passes the puck were on the checklist of things that stand out.
"We were locked in on Murray," said Columbus GM Scott Howson. "He was No. 1 on our list."
At 6-1, 201 pounds, Murray has shown the pedigree of a champion and should join the Blue Jackets blue line. He had nine goals and 22 assists in 46 games for Everett.
"He can still be a very useful player if he doesn't generate a lot of points," said Howson. "But it could be there. It's a little bit of an unknown, how much offense is he going to give you in the NHL. But I don't think any other parts of his game are unknown with Ryan."
Three-time Stanley Cup champion Mark Recchi had an opportunity to watch some future NHL stars as the coach of Team Cherry at the 2012 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Kelowna, B.C.
It was there Recchi got to watch defenseman Murray for three straight days. Needless to say, he wasn't disappointed.
"Murray reminds me a little bit of Ray Bourque," Recchi said. "He has that Ray Bourque look to me, real composed and strong. He skates a lot like him, too. When I first saw him, I was trying to pinpoint who he reminded me of and then it hit me -- Bourque."
That's a reach of course, but it gives you an idea of what kind of player Murray could be.
"It's all reactionary," Murray said of his play defensively. "I try and play a patient game with or without the puck. I try to force the forward into making the first move and then react if they make a mistake. It's lot of hard work on defense, battling in the corners and stuff, but it's something that's always come natural to me, I guess."
Off the ice, Murray plays the guitar.
"Me and my buddies back home, we all can play guitar and we hang out and jam to Neil Young songs often," said Murray, who only cracked a smile.
"My favorite song is probably 'Hey Hey, My My,'" Murray said. "I was curious, so I went out and bought a cheap guitar and my roommate taught me. I've been hooked ever since and have pretty much played every day since then."
Ryan Murray will certainly be playing some pretty sweet music for the Columbus Blue Jackets.