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Wealth of early experiences helped Coyotes’ Murphy see he belongs in NHL

Arizona Coyotes' Mike Smith (41) makes a kick-save on a shot by Colorado Avalanche's Matt Duchene (9) as Coyotes' Connor Murphy (5) and Nicklas Grossmann (2), of Sweden, defend during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Rangers at Coyotes

When: 7 p.m., Saturday

Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale

TV: FOX Sports Arizona

Radio: ESPN 620 AM

Injury report: Rangers — F Rick Nash (back) is day to day. Coyotes — C Antoine Vermette (lower body) is day to day.

Scouting the Rangers: Backup G Antti Raanta is likely to play against the Coyotes. … If Nash can’t play, F Emerson Etem will draw into the lineup, and could be with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello on New York’s top line. … Former Coyote Keith Yandle returns to Arizona for the first time since the team dealt him to the Rangers at last year’s trade deadline. Yandle was skating on the third defensive pairing with Dan Boyle in line rushes at Thursday’s practice in Denver.


 

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Connor Murphy is a perfectionist. Maybe those expectations stem from being the 20th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. Maybe they come from his dad, Gord, who played 14 seasons in in the NHL and now serves as an assistant coach for Philadelphia.

Whatever the reasons, they can work as both a blessing and a curse for Arizona’s 22-year old defenseman.

“If anything, he’s got to learn to let things go a little bit,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “He’s a real dedicated athlete on and off the ice and that’s great to see in a young player, but you can’t let that drag your game down.”

Murphy is working on that. Last season, the Coyotes put him in a variety of situations at even strength, on the penalty kill and on the power play. The experimentation was partially a product of a short-handed roster, but it was also conducted to help Murphy grow as a player — and Murphy believes he has grown.

“It’s funny how experiences can be more powerful than any other kind of teaching,” he said. “When you’re almost unprepared for them, it’s a huge learning curve for you and it’s amazing much you fail before you figure out what the right way is to go.”

Murphy admits the failures still linger more than they should.

“That’s one thing I’m trying to do a better job of is just enjoying it every day,” he said. “When you first get to the NHL you think it’s going to be all roses and fairyland but it’s stressful. You put a lot on yourself and expect a lot out of yourself and when things don’t go the right way it’s frustrating.”

To help guide him through those moments, the Coyotes have paired him with veteran defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, who Tippett always thought would be a good mentor for the team’s young defenseman. But Tippett also gives a large heaping of credit to assistant coach Jim Playfair for guiding Murphy to NHL manhood.

When Playfair sees Murphy getting too frustrated, he might sit him down for a talk or he might just lean over to him on the bench and crack a joke to lighten the mood.

“If he’s going to be that hard on himself there’s no need for me to be hard on him,” Playfair said. “Probably the biggest thing for Connor is just to trust himself. He’s missed a lot of hockey with injuries over the last few years, and I still think his offensive play is underdeveloped because he’s got a great shot and good vision from the blue line, but what Connor has to understand is that even though there is still upside to his game, he’s a good hockey player.”

Murphy put in a lot of work this offseason. Most players will claim the same, but if you took photos of Murphy (6-4, 212 pounds) at the end of last season and the start of this year’s training camp, you’d see it was true.

“He has physically matured into a man’s body,” Tippett said.

Murphy’s game has matured to the point where Tippett now trusts him in all those situations he was learning last season. Murphy had two assists in Thursday’s 4-2 win over Colorado, but he was also on the ice in a shutdown role late in the game with the Coyotes protecting a lead.

“I’m trying to play confident, play competitive and just push the envelope,” Murphy said. “I’d still say getting down on myself is a weakness of mine; just dealing with lows, but what’s helped me deal with it a little better this year is feeling stronger and feeling more confortable.

“I had a good summer, I developed and I feel like I belong here now. That confidence is huge when dealing with mistakes because it helps me realize, ‘that’s not you on a regular basis, it’s just a mistake and everyone makes them.”

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