Doug Murray: 2002-03 Mid-season Report

By Kevin Wey

As the Sharks 8th round pick, 241st overall, in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Doug Murray didn’t receive much fanfare, but after nearly four years of developing his game with the Cornell Big Red, Murray finds himself San Jose’s top collegiate prospect, and one of the Sharks’ top prospects overall.

Of all the Sharks prospects playing college hockey this season, the 6’3” 240 pound Murray is tops in more than just size. Murray’s skating, defensive awareness, and size allows him to dish out big hits, but the Swede has cut down on the number of risky plays he makes, opting to play things safer than he did in the past. The new disciplined style Murray now employs has also seen his penalty minutes drop to 12 in 19 games, compared to the 67 minutes he racked up in 35 games last season. With a 95-mile per hour slap shot and solid offensive awareness, Murray is also a weapon on the power play for Cornell, with two power play-goal and nine power-plays assists so far this season.

Murray is a co-captain of the Big Red with Thrashers prospect Stephen Baby and is currently third on the team in conference scoring behind Thrasher prospects Ryan Vesce and Baby with three goals and 15 assists in 19 games. In ECAC conference play, Murray has two goals and nine assists in ten games. In ECAC conference play, only Clarkson’s Randy Jones has a higher points/per game average. (Murray also had a power play-assist in an exhibition game against York, a Canadian college, to open the season on Oct. 27.) Cornell’s late start in the college hockey season has Murray at a disadvantage in total defensive scoring to Harvard’s Noah Welch as well as Jones. In overall scoring, Murray stands 23rd overall and tied for 20th in points per game at 1.00. Last season Murray finished tied for 10th in ECAC scoring, which Murray could still achieve with Cornell, currently ranked fourth in USCHO’s Men’s NCAA DI Hockey Poll, based on their 16-3-0 overall record. With an 11-1-0 in ECAC conference record, Cornell finds itself as the favorite to win the ECAC championship.

The 22-year old Murray’s path from his hometown Bromma, Sweden, to North America, to Shark’s draft pick, to elite collegiate hockey player/prospect is an interesting one. As reported by Doug Wohlhueter in his recent article about Murray on United State College Hockey Online, Murray came to North America in1997 to attend The Portledge School to further his understanding of English and play hockey in the United States. Making Murray’s transition to North America easier was that his housing was taken care of, as he lived with Mr. and Mrs. Richard Schlanger, whose brother was married to Murray’s aunt. While attending the Long Island school Murray played for the New York Apple Core of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. After two years of school at Portledge and two years with the Apple Core, his last of which he was an EJHL All-Star, Murray was then drafted by the Sharks.

As a senior Murray, who turns 23 on Mar. 12, is in his last season of NCAA hockey, and it would be a major surprise if Murray were not signed by the Sharks after the season. Whether Murray will have to spend all of 2003-04 in Cleveland, pull an AHL/NHL season like Jim Fahey, or cracks the NHL straight away is up for debate. Unlike Fahey, Murray’s awareness and size has been more of a factor in his success than Fahey, who was/is a “skill defenseman.” That said, Hockey’s Future NCAA writer, and University of New Hampshire hockey radio color commentary Jeff Morton says that, “Murray is the best defenseman I’ve seen at this level.”

With a linebacker physique, Murray would become possibly the Sharks’ biggest player after John Jakopin. (Jakopin weighs 245 pounds) Given the fact Murray can skate, does have such a good slapper, and can lay out huge hits, Murray has a shot to crack the Sharks’ line-up next year, but it would most likely be in some sort of rotation with Christian Ehrhoff.

The recent acquisition of Kyle McLaren from the Boston Bruins for Jeff Jillson and Jeff Hackett, who was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens for Niklas Sundstrom and a 3rd round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, (the Sharks also received a 4th round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft from Boston) means that the top six defenseman will likely be: Mike Rathje, Kyle McLaren, Dan McGillis, Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan, and Jim Fahey. Bryan Marchment is an unrestricted free agent after the season, and currently makes $3 million per season. If Brad Stuart is healthy, or San Jose still is out of the play-off picture at the trading deadline, Marchment may be moved. If Marchment is not moved, and signs elsewhere, it is likely that Marchment will fetch the Sharks a 4th round draft pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft from the NHL as a Compensatory Pick.

Now that Fahey seems firmly established in the line-up, and Jillson traded, the 7th defenseman spot should be a battle (with above assumptions) among Christian Ehrhoff, Doug Murray, Shawn Heins (if he returns, as he will be a Group II restricted free agent), and John Jakopin (unsure of contract duration). Cleveland could use veteran leadership at defense to join Jesse Fibiger as a steadying force: such as Heins and Jakopin. Ehrhoff will have had three years of German Elite League (DEL) experience. The DEL is full of former NHL, AHL, and IHL players. Ehrhoff has also performed well in the World Championships for Germany, and played rather well in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, so Ehrhoff has much more experience against NHL, AHL, and IHL (now defunct) players, which could give the German the edge over Murray. The likely battle between Ehrhoff and Murray also is important if one of the top six go down to injury.

Regardless, San Jose’s defense corps next, probably sans Marchment though, is going to be skilled and physical. Doug Murray should be a part of it for a long time.