With the draft only two days away, we are nearing the end of my Player Profiles, designed to get you ready for Friday night’s festivities. I’ve scoured the globe examining the best talent that could be available when Ken Holland steps up to the podium to announce the Red Wings first selection of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, at 24th overall. The list of players I have profiled includes:
Joel Armia, the Finnish Ace.
Rickard Rakell, the skilled Swede playing his junior hockey in nearby Plymouth, MI.
Tomas Jurco, of the Memorial Cup winning Saint John Seadogs.
Vladislav Namestnikov, the talented Russian with all those Red Wings connections.
All of the above are supremely talented forwards, and the Red Wings would be thrilled to have any of them. However, if I had to wager a guess on what position the Red Wings will address with their first pick, it would have to be defense.
The Wings have established a long tradition of dominating blue line play for the last two decades.
Granted, a lot of that has been because of the work of Nicklas Lidstrom, but he has had a tremendous supporting cast along the way.
Mathieu Schneider (hey, he was really good in his time here).
Some very talented blue liners have come and gone from the city of Detroit, and the Wings have always been able to weather their departures by replacing them from within, by adding a piece through a trade or free agency, or, more often than not, by Nick Lidstrom elevating his game to an even greater level.
But with Nick Lidstrom due to turn 42 by the end of this coming season, the writing may as well be written on the wall in neon paint.
He won’t be around forever. The last two summers, Wings fans have had to wait nervously to find out whether or not he would return for the next season. One of these years, he isn’t going to come back.
With that in mind, it’s time for the Wings to start building up their defensive depth so as to ease the burden of replacing one of the game’s greatest talents.
If you look at the Wings top 25 prospects right now (so graciously provided by Red Wings Central), you’ll notice that only 7 are defensemen. In fact, aside from Brendan Smith being the Wings number one ranked prospect, there are no blue liners until Brian Lashoff at #14. With Smith expected to make the Red Wings this year (and essentially cease to become a prospect any longer), the Wings have a big, big void in terms of high quality blue liners coming down the pipe.
They aren’t short on talented forwards, with Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Calle Jarnkrok highlighting a formidable group upfront.
They also have a group of highly regarded goaltenders, with first round pick Thomas McCollum, as well as Petr Mrazek and Jordan Pearce. They will also likely add another body to that group in this draft.
Where they really need to focus their high picks in this draft is on the back end.
Enter, Connor Murphy.
I’ve already profiled Joe Morrow and Jonas Brodin as potential defenders the Wings could wind up with at #24 overall, and if either is available I hope the Wings wouldn’t hesitate to grab them. I have a feeling both will be long gone by the time Detroit is on the clock.
Murphy, on the other hand, could fall right into Detroit’s lap, as there is a considerable amount of talent that will go between the middle of Round 1 and the middle of Round 2.
Unless there is one player the Red Wings brass has completely fallen in love with, for example based on the interviews conducted at the combine which the public is not privy to, then they should be comfortable to stay put at #24 and pick the best defenseman available.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie has him ranked as the 30th best prospect in the draft, but he is the only defenseman in McKenzie’s rankings between 22-30, so if the Red Wings do elect to take the best defenseman available, McKenzie would agree that Murphy is that guy.
The International Scouting Service has ranked Murphy as the 19th best overall prospect, ahead of Jonas Brodin (#20). Brodin was ranked by McKenzie as the 10th best prospect in the draft, while ISS has Brodin as the ninth best DEFENSEMAN. Certainly a bit of a discrepancy there, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that McKenzie has Brodin ranked a bit high, while ISS has him a bit undervalued, and he actually lands somewhere in between.
Back to Murphy now, where the Central Scouting Bureau – probably the most highly respected scouting agency – has Murphy as the 25th best domestic (meaning they play their junior hockey in North America) skater. Add that to the fact that there are probably 5 Europeans who will go in the first round (Larsson, Zibanejad, Armia, Brodin and Klefbom), and you have Murphy somewhere around Bob McKenzie’s 30th ranked prospect.
Add in the fact that both TSN’s Craig Button and Red Line Report have Murphy going at #24 overall to the Red Wings, and that tells me there is some truth to these speculations. When I see two well respected sources like that agreeing on a player going to a certain team that deep into the first round, I have to take notice.
Where there is smoke, there is fire, as the old saying goes.
All of this adds up to Murphy being the best defender available when the Red Wings pick comes up, and him being presented with a red and white sweater.
I think it would be really, really cool if Nick Lidstrom was at the draft to help Holland announce their first pick, and he was the one to hand Murphy his sweater…you know, since Lidstrom is Murphy’s favorite player and all. He even wears the number 5, although I’m pretty sure that number won’t be available when he gets to Detroit. Sorry, Connor.
He also lists Pavel Datsyuk’s “backhand to forehand fake” as his favorite breakaway move (the jury is still out on whether or not Murphy can actually pull it off himself).
His favorite musical artist is Eminem. Does anyone need to know anything more to see that he belongs in Detroit?
Oh, you want to know about actual “on the ice” stuff? Well, okay…
In terms of playing ability and physical attributes, there really isn’t a whole lot to dislike about the native of Boston, Massachusetts.
He is 6’3″ and 185 pounds, so you just know that when he fills out he is going to be a very, very big guy.
He shoots right-handed (yes!), and has good bloodlines – his father Gord Murphy is an assistant coach for the Florida Panthers, one of four teams he played for in a career that spanned three decades. Gord, also a right handed shooting defenseman with good size, put up over 40 points three times in his career.
Murphy has been playing in the US NTDP (National Team Development Program), which is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Murphy has committed to Miami University for the upcoming season, where he will join a RedHawks team that boasts Dan Boyle (another right-handed offensive defenseman) among their alumnus. The RedHawks should have a competitive team next season with the additions of Murphy and fellow first round talent Tyler Biggs.
The RedHawks won the CCHA men’s ice hockey tournament this season, with Phoenix prospect and Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele being named tournament MVP. The tournament takes place annually at the Joe Louis Arena. Anybody seeing a pattern here with all of the Detroit connections? It would only make sense for the Wings to jump on this guy.
Scouts rave about Murphy’s size and puck-handling ability.
It should also be noted that Murphy is a hard-working kid, competitive, and able to lead his peers. He was the captain of the US U18 team that won the silver medal in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August, 2010.
He also scored the gold-medal winning goal in overtime, defeating Sweden in the 2011 World U18 Championships. The goal was Murphy’s second of the game, and helped earn him player of the game honors.
The U18 tournament, which took place two months ago in Germany, provided exactly what scouts were hoping to see out of Murphy.
Murphy has suffered two very serious back injuries in the past two years, which limited his exposure and threw up a whole whack of red flags. Murphy’s return late in the season showed scouts that he was able to play at a very high level, and so long as they are comfortable with how he performed physically at the combine – he might be the one player with the most riding on his combine numbers rather than his statistics – then there is no reason to let him slip out of the first round.
As long as Murphy can stay healthy, he has the upside to be a top pairing defender, and a guy who can anchor a power play unit. Whether it’s Murphy, Morrow, Brodin or someone else entirely, I’m really hoping the Wings address their blue line early and often in 2011.