The Pittsburgh Penguins kicked off their participation in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rookie tournament Thursday night in London, ON. And one of the club’s netminders entered the event with a little off his mind — and a whole lot more in his bank account.
Matt Murray, the club’s 19-year-old netminder, was signed to a three-year entry-level contract on Wednesday. In addition to obviously being pleased about the experience, the 6’4” goaltender, who was drafted in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft, said it has done wonders for his confidence.
“It feels good. It’s something you work for throughout pretty much your entire hockey career. It’s nice to get it done,” he said. “It shows that they have confidence in me as a player, which goes a long way in boosting my confidence. It shows that they have enough confidence in me to sign me to a contract — it’s a good feeling for sure.”
But he’s not letting a few extra zeros get to his head, he added.
“It’s a good feeling to get it over with, but I look at it as a starting point,” Murray said. “Now I have to work even harder and keep doing the things that I’ve been doing to get better now that I’m under contract.”
Murray enjoyed a solid season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, compiling a 26-19-4 record in 53 games. He earned a bronze medal in the 2012 U18 World Junior Championship, where he was the starting netminder for Team Canada. That followed a gold-medal turn with Team Ontario at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2011, not to mention a “Player of the Game” nod during the 2012 CHL Top Prospects Game. Despite all of that, Murray wasn’t sure when a deal was going to get done.
“Me and my agent are in contact quite a bit. We knew that there were talks, but it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen,” he said. “You never really know when it’s going to happen. We knew about it for a little while, but you never really know.”
Now his focus is squarely on the rookie camp. With limited practice time and teammates unfamiliar with each other, the tournament can be a challenge at best — and nightmare at worst — for goaltenders.
“We only had one practice before our first game, so as a goaltender you have to be pretty much ready for anything, work as hard as you can, and try to stop every shot that comes your way,” Murray said. “It might be a lot, it might not be a lot. You really don’t know in a short-term tournament like this.
“These guys are the best of the best when it comes to NHL rookies. It’s a step up — you can tell when it comes to the pace and the shots. You notice it in the professionalism in everybody as well.”
The volume of shots should be good practice for Murray when he returns to the Soo Greyhounds. He can expect to see a lot of rubber backstopping a very young squad. But he said. he’s excited for the challenge and thinks that the Greyhounds will make a fair bit of noise this year.
“I’m excited. Our team, we lost a lot of guys this year and we are, I believe, considered the youngest team in the OHL. But I’ve never been around so many character guys to tell you the truth,” Murray said. “And that’s what you need to win games and have a winning hockey team. I think the character of our team will overcome its youth.”
“Oh yeah, of course. Darnell is one of my best buddies and I was very excited for him,” he said.
The Soo is many days (and many kilometres) away. Before that, Murray wants to show that he’s not only working on some self-professed deficiencies in his game, but also to show that a few dollar bills haven’t gone to his head.
“I’ve been working on my puck-handling quite a bit. It’s something that I’ve struggled with in the past, so I’m trying to improve it and make better decisions with the puck,” he said. “I’ve come here to try to make an impression on the staff and to show that I’m not going to get lackadaisical now that I’ve signed a contract.”
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