2011 NHL Draft Prospects: No. 25 Connor Murphy

If there is ever a defenseman in this coming 2011 NHL Entry Draft that has more question marks surrounding him, it’s United States National Developmental Team defenseman Connor Murphy. With some of the best raw talent in the draft, Murphy may drop simply because of his history of injuries and failure to properly develop due to missing time.

“Murphy started great at the Four Nations. First game, against Sweden, probably the most talented team [the USNTDP] played, Murphy looked like a dimensional talent,” said one scout. “[He had] an immediate and sustained impact on the game, every shift he played. But with each game in the tournament, the level of his play dropped off a bit. There’s no doubt that the injury was the single factor in that. He was trying to jump back into play against top kids who are in mid-season form after he had been skating barely even a month. Timing, conditioning … he was thrown in the deep end. The remarkable thing is that he played so well at the start of the tournament. He was put in a position that you’d expect him to struggle or even fail. Instead, at his very best, you would have projected him as the best defenseman in the tournament. The fall-off was dramatic but expected. He got through the first games at the Five Nations on adrenaline. Later games he was affected by a lack of conditioning — he wasn’t able to recover playing back-to-back games.”

With just 11 games played in two years (and just four points accrued in those games), scouts are nervous to spend a first-round pick on him. However, his 6-foot-1 frame and 170 pounds shows that he has the potential to be a big defenseman with some great skating ability and brilliant hockey sense. And committed to the Miami University (Ohio) for next season, scouts are eager to see how he reacts to an exponential increase in opposing skill level. But that still does not answer questions about where he is selected this June.

“Where he goes is entirely based on how he checks out [medically], more than how he plays the rest of the way,” said another scout. “A lot of the guys, practically someone in every organization, knows and respects his father and a lot have watched Connor grow up. Those who know Gord joke that the only thing holding his son back is that he inherited his father’s attitude. Really, Connor gets the highest mark you can give for character. He knows what it’s going to be like at the next level. There would be questions about what how his development will be affected by the loss of a full season-and-a-half, especially when he was still growing, filling out and maturing. You can’t get that time back. But the talent he has shown in that little window, you’d think that he’ll play at the next level and maybe, maybe, as a top-two defenseman … if healthy. That’s always going to be the question. It’s not like a broken arm or leg where you can project recovery and what isn’t like to recur — a back or neck can be a chronic condition, especially if it’s there for a teenager. It’s a high risk to put all your chips on a player with that type of injury, at least with your first-rounder, if you have just one of the pick [in the first 30].”

Alan Bass, a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com, is the author of The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever. He has worked for the Philadelphia Flyers’ Fan Development department, going to schools throughout the tri-state area to teach about fitness and the importance of teamwork. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College Division II hockey team as well. You can contact him at Alanbasswriting@aol.com.