a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Monday, 2 April 2012

04/02/12 The Oilers, The Defense, and The Draft

Last year Steve Tambellini said that it didn't matter if the player the Oilers picked first overall played in the NHL in 2011-12. With the state of the defense what it is, might that position change this time around? And if so, what defenseman in the 2012 draft class is most ready to make the jump?

I asked prospect guru Corey Pronman the latter question, and his reply was simple: Murray.

Ryan Murray has been a highly regarded defenseman for a very long time. He was selected ninth overall by Everett in the 2008 Bantam Draft and since then he's spent three full seasons there, compiling 103 points in 168 games. Back in February, Murray told NHL.com that he doesn't find playing defense all that hard because he has been doing it all his life. He means it; having played hockey since he was two years old.

Some compare Murray to Scott Niedermayer, while he compares himself to Chicago's Duncan Keith. To Steve Yzerman, Murray is more like Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howe. Murray's former General Manager in Everett, Doug Soetaert, thinks that Murray is better than Cam Fowler was when he got to the NHL, and better than Luke Schenn and Tyler Myers. If Murray can somehow combine the skills and quality of those players he will be a very good player indeed. One certainty is that his skating is a huge asset, as is calmness and ability to steady the back end. Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald said of Murray that "he never gets out of position and I've never seen him lose a one-on-one battle. He's always, defensively, in the right spots."

Murray's offensive totals don't jump off the page at you, having collected 9-22-31 in 46 games this season after losing time to a high ankle sprain and the World Juniors, but he possesses a good first pass and offensive instincts. His 0.67 points per game this season came on a team with the third-lowest goal total in the entire WHL, and he contributed to almost 17% of his team's offensive production. He was also an even player on a predominantly minus Silvertips squad. In the playoffs he led his team in scoring with 3-2-5 in a four game sweep at the hands of the Tri City Americans.

There is some concern with the injury Murray suffered back in October, and there's no way to definitively say what his ceiling will be in the NHL, but this player looks like he would be a solid addition to the Oilers. With Edmonton mired at the bottom of the league standings they will certainly have the opportunity to add him. Considering how poor the Oilers' defense has been at times this season, even an 18 year old would be a major improvement. Murray may not fit exactly with the Oilers' timeline, but if he's the best player on the board when the Oilers step up to the podium, fans should be very happy if they draft him.

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