Garth Murray up close

By Brandon LeBourveau
The 2001 NHL Entry Draft was one of the deepest drafts of talented players in a long, long time. Many scouts believed you could get just as good of a player at 30th overall that you could at 15th overall. The entire draft was filled with a large group of highly skilled youngsters, with Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuk, now a budding star with the Atlanta Thrashers, topping the list. When the topic was brought up among scouts concerning a power forward by the name of Garth Murray from the Regina Pats of the WHL, most said he could go anywhere from late in the first round to the end of the third round. Apparently the Rangers shared this opinion, having ranked Murray 29th overall on their list of available players. After trading down in the third round, swapping the 74th overall pick to the Minnesota Wild in return for the 79th overall pick and a fifth rounder, the Rangers’ scouting staff were very pleased to see Garth Murray still available at pick number 79. They wasted little time selecting Murray, a 6’2 206 lbs. forward who potentially could become the physical second liner that they are lacking. After the third round came to a conclusion, the Rangers had to feel pretty excited after being able to select three of the players they had ranked in their top twenty-nine.

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A native of Regina, Saskatchewan, Garth Murray was originally selected by the Regina Pats in the first round (13th overall) of the 1997 WHL Bantam Draft. Since he was born on September 17, 1982, thankfully for the Rangers, Murray missed being eligible for the 2000 Entry Draft by a couple of days. Thus, he was a year older and had a year more of experience and improvement than most of the others eligible in 2001. As a 15 year old, Murray played in a total of 4 games for the Pats, tallying no points and 2 penalty minutes. The following year as a 16 year old he made the team for good and has been a key contributor ever since. During that 1998-99 season, Garth didn’t get as much ice time as he would have liked, but contributed to the team whenever he got the opportunity. In 60 games, he totaled 3 goals, 5 assists, 8 points and 101 penalty minutes. The youngster was adjusting to the higher level of competition that he was up against, and by the end of the season you could easily see his play improved tremendously. It wasn’t until the next year, 1999-00, that Murray started to contribute in the offensive end as well. He participated in 68 of Regina’s games, and finished the season with 14 goals and 26 assists for a total of 40 points, along with 155 minutes in penalties.

With two junior seasons under his belt by age 17, Murray just showed the will and desire to improve year after year. The Regina Pats were scheduled to host the 2001 CHL Memorial Cup Championship and Garth Murray was ready for the challenge of leading Regina to a championship in 2001, while also impressing scouts enough to be selected high in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. He played in all 72 games for the Pats, registering 28 goals, 16 assists, 44 points, and 183 penalty minutes, while wearing the Assistant Captain’s “A” for the season. He participated in the CHL Top Prospects game, tallying an assist for Team Cherry and finishing second during the fastest skater competition. During the Memorial Cup tournament, Garth’s 3 goals and 2 assists weren’t enough to help Regina finish any better than a disappointing third place.

Apparently in love with the complete package that Murray brings to the table each and every night, the Rangers were very pleased to walk away knowing that they drafted a potential second line power forward that will mix it up in the corners and along the boards, while also giving his best every night and wearing his heart on his sleeve. Murray came to training camp this fall with the hopes of winning a spot in the NHL as a 19 year old, yet realistically most people knew he was another year or two away from stepping in. During a three game rookie tournament in Kitchener, Ontario, Garth tallied a goal in the Rangers’ prospects lone win, a 6-5 victory over the prospects for the Carolina Hurricanes. He traveled with a group of those prospects back to New York to begin the main training camp for the Rangers. Although the start of camp was delayed a few days as a result of the cowardly terrorists who crashed into the World Trade Center, Murray was sharp when camp finally did get underway and was one of a few impressive rookies for the Rangers. About a week or so into camp, the team assigned a bunch of players to the Hartford Wolf Pack’s training camp in order to get in a few exhibition games with the team. Murray happened to be one of those players, though his stay in Hartford wasn’t for long. The Rangers, impressed with his play in a few exhibition games for the Wolf Pack, brought Murray back up to the main camp for a second look before eventually returning him to the Regina Pats of the WHL. Murray appeared in one exhibition game, against the Philadelphia Flyers. He registered no points during the game and showed that he still needed to work on some areas of his game before becoming a real contender for a roster spot. A few days later he was returned to his hometown of Regina to play for the Pats.

Upon returning to the Pats, Garth was awarded the Captain’s “C” that was available after former captain Barret Jackman graduated to the pro ranks. Murray, a tremendous leader both on and off the ice, was delighted to earn the captaincy. So far this season, he hasn’t let the Pats down. After losing a lot of key players to the pros from last season in Barret Jackman, Paul Elliot, Blake Evans and so on, Regina has a relatively young team this season that has been led mostly by the play of leading scorer Matt Hubbauer, captain Garth Murray and another Rangers’ draft pick in defenseman Filip Novak who has easily been their top player on the blue line. The Pats currently have a 27-14-4-5 record through 50 games, and currently have the 4th most points in the WHL with 63, trailing only Swift Current, Red Deer and Spokane. The Pats also are ranked number 9 on the Bank of Montreal MasterCard CHL Top 10 Rankings. Murray has played in 40 of the Pats’ 50 games, registering 19 goals, 20 assists, 39 points, 90 penalty minutes and a +17. He missed a period of time in late December-early January in which he played for team Canada at the 2002 World Juniors in the Czech Republic. During the 7 games he played for Team Canada, Murray was a consistent contributor to their success and a reason why they took home the Silver medal. He tallied 3 goals, 3 assists, 6 points, 12 penalty minutes and was a +5, while also playing sound defensively and shutting down the opposition. If Regina wants to get back to the Memorial Cup again this season, it will be because of players like Murray who step their play up a notch when it matters most.

As we all know, production and statistics in juniors can be deceiving. The majority of the time they don’t translate into NHL success. However, if anyone hasn’t been told by now, Garth Murray is for real. He’s as sure-fire of an NHL prospect as their possibly could be. He won’t likely be a star, because he doesn’t have that type of potential. What he does have is a long, successful career ahead of him as a second or third line power forward in the NHL. Not many players of Murray’s size have the wheels, the speed, the offense and the physical package to go along with it. He fits the bill for the type of player that the Rangers have been lacking for some time now. Although he’s still a few years away, many in the Rangers’ organization as well of their fans are awaiti
ng his arrival on Broadway. Murray is currently finishing up his fourth full season with the Pats, meaning he will be eligible to play for the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL next season, provided that he doesn’t make the Rangers first. Expect Murray to spend at least one, maybe two, seasons with the Wolf Pack before finally winning a permanent job with the Rangers. He may get one or two cups of coffee with the Rangers over that time, but his permanent NHL arrival likely will be some time around 2004.

When looking back on the deal that ultimately landed Garth Murray, the Rangers dealt the 74th overall pick to the Minnesota Wild for the 79th overall pick and the 139th overall pick. Considering the depth in the draft and the Rangers’ not having a fifth rounder were two big reasons why Glen Sather pulled off this deal. He certainly knew what he was going. With the 74th overall selection, the Wild selected stay-at-home defenseman Chris Heid from the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. Garth Murray was eventually selected with the 79th pick, and the Rangers took center Shawn Collymore from the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the 139th selection. Collymore is a tremendously skilled player and is averaging more than a point per game for the Remparts while also being their captain. Garth Murray and Shawn Collymore for Chris Heid? A good deal today, next week, next year, and even ten years from now. When it comes to dealing picks in the Entry Draft, Glen Sather is the man. At the 2000 Draft he dealt a 2nd rounder (38th overall) for a 2nd rounder (64th) and a 3rd (95th), which turned out to be Tomas Kopecky for Filip Novak and Dominic Moore. Add that deal to the one he made this year, and you can start to see why this man was so successful in Edmonton.