The rookie defenseman was a point-per-game player in 22 Checkers games, continuing the prolific pace from junior hockey that helped make him a first-round pick (12th overall) by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011. Even though he picked up three power-play assists and a plus-3 rating in his season debut at the AHL level on Jan. 24 (putting him on the ice for six goals scored), his most notable achievement was a 12-game assist streak that set a new franchise record, tied the longest posted by any AHL player during the season and was the longest by a rookie blueliner in five years.
It was a rare feat, highlighting his advanced skill set despite turning 21 just days after its conclusion. Despite that, he was left looking at the bigger picture following after finishing the season with Charlotte.
“Playing with guys like (Chris) Terry and (Zach) Boychuk that dominate this league, it’s not too hard to put up points,” he said. “I was happy with my play down here most of the time, but there were some parts that I’m not happy with and have to address.”
- Ranked third among Checkers defensemen in scoring with 22 points (3g, 19a) in just 22 games
- Broke the club record for most assists and points by a Checkers rookie defenseman in a single season previously set by Michal Jordan in 2010-11 (14 assists, 18 points)
- Set franchise records with assists and points in 12 consecutive games from Feb. 7-March 26 (1g, 14a)
- Twelve-game assist streak tied the longest posted by any AHL player over the course of the entire season (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Andrew Ebbett) and was the longest by an AHL defenseman since the 2008-09 season (Binghamton rookie Mattias Karlsson)
The latter improved markedly during his stay with the Checkers. After playing his first 39 games of the season in the NHL with Carolina, the Hurricanes hoped he would gain confidence while playing in the AHL. That was never in particularly short supply, as coaches felt he was initially guilty of trying to do too much on his own, resulting in quick turnovers as he attempted to go coast-to-coast whenever he gained possession of the puck in his own zone.
As time went on, he played smarter, picked his battles and the production ramped up as a result, culminating in his long point streak and goals in each of his last two games.
As was the case when Murphy made a late-season debut for the Checkers’ playoff run in 2013, it’s fair to question whether his last game of the season was also his last-ever game with Charlotte. The Hurricanes were willing to let him develop on the fly for most of last season, until the desire to keep him playing big minutes during the NHL’s Olympic break led to his initial AHL assignment.
“That was a little bit of a letdown because I wanted to stay with the big club, but it gave me a chance to come down here and get some confidence,” he said. “Going up (to Carolina), I wish I would have taken more advantage of the opportunity and helped offensively.”
Murphy finished his NHL season with 12 points in 48 games, but, like many other skilled offensive players in Carolina, wasn’t able to produce on a power play that struggled throughout the season. It’s an area he plans to continue focusing on, and the Hurricanes, who have four other defensemen with significant NHL experience currently under contract for next season, will surely give him every opportunity to contribute starting opening night.
Even if that happens, his age and entry-level contract mean that more quick trips to Charlotte to get ice time and confidence remain viable options. Given his production at the AHL level and the potential departure of several other scorers from last year’s team, the Checkers would be happy to have him in any case.
Meanwhile, Murphy, now with a little more AHL seasoning under his belt, hopes to make that next step a permanent one.
“It was a little difficult going up and down and not having a place to call home, but for my first year it was great,” he said. “I got to experience almost 50 games in the NHL, and coming down here, (Assistant Coach) Geordie (Kinnear) was great and the boys were great. It’s still a great league.”