For most of the Pittsburgh Penguins prospects skating in this week’s development camp, it’s a chance to check in on their off-season progress, get a new perspective on training and have a little fun with some of their peers.
For defenseman Matt Murphy, it’s a job interview.
Murphy, a 20-year old native of Fredericton, New Brunswick is in a unique situation amongst those at prospect camp. Most of the players have either been drafted or signed to a professional contract by the Penguins. Those that have not, for the most part, will be attending college in the fall.
Murphy, however, played his junior hockey in the QMJHL, and as a 20-year old, he is eligible to play in the AHL or ECHL for the first time. If he is unable to earn a pro contact, he could return to junior hockey for an overage year.
“As a 20-year old, I have some options,” he said. “Obviously, I’d like to play somewhere in this organization, but at this point, I’m just looking at it day-by-day and trying to prove myself.”
In that vein, might there be more eyeballs on Murphy than the typical camp invitee? No, says Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Mike Sullivan.
“We’ve really tried hard to not make this an evaluation camp,” said Sullivan. “It’s about an education and an orientation about what it is to be a Pittsburgh Penguin.
“I don’t think contracts are going to get earned in this week. There’s plenty of opportunity for contracts to be earned moving forward. I think what it will do, is open eyes for the young players that are here as to what the expectations are and how high the standards are.”
Still, they say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and that’s what Murphy’s focus has been on at camp.
“There’s a lot of really good players out here so it was really good to get my foot in the door and have a couple of practices,” he said. “You’re here to try to showcase yourself. They want to see what you can do.”
Murphy profiles as a strong two-way player who is defensively responsible and can chip in offensively. He averaged 9 goals and 24 assists over his last two seasons in the QMJHL, which were split between Halifax and Quebec. His 2013-14 season in Halifax was particularly impressive, as he led the Mooseheads blueline in points, goals, assists, and plus/minus.
At 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, he certainly has the build to be a professional defenseman. What he needs is an opportunity, and the Penguins organization may have one.
The Wheeling Nailers, the Penguins Double-A affiliate in the ECHL, had a dual affiliation with the Montreal Canadiens for the past several years. That relationship has ended, meaning that the Penguins will be responsible for filling out the entirety of the Nailers roster this season.
“Because I’m undrafted, I don’t have as much time to be noticed,” Murphy acknowledged. “There’s a little more pressure, but I’m trying not to think about that right now. I’m just trying to play my game.”
Between the NHL and AHL, the Penguins organization currently has 16 defensemen under contract. There’s room for at least one more, and for now, it seems that Murphy has been given an opportunity.