Connor Murphy may not be the best defenseman on the Blackhawks, but he's certainly the most valuable.
The 26-year-old blue liner missed the first half of last season due to a back injury he suffered during an off-ice workout and has been sidelined for more than half of this season already because of a groin injury.
And you can't ignore the void he has left on the back end for the Blackhawks.
Since the start of the 2018-19 season, the Blackhawks are 29-20-9 with Murphy in the lineup and 12-21-6 without him. He isn't the flashiest player and won't light up the scoresheet — he's pointless in six games this season — but he's the most dependable defender the Blackhawks have, and they rely on him in many key defensive situations.
No defenseman on the Blackhawks has more defensive zone starts at even strength per 60 minutes (22.1) than Murphy, whose 66.7 percent defensive zone-start ratio on the penalty kill ranks second just behind Duncan Keith (66.9), according to Natural Stat Trick. Murphy was also among the NHL's defensemen leaders last season in quality of ice time against the opposition's top line, making his ice time average of 20:11 that ranks third on the team this season stand out even more because he's eating hard minutes.
The good news? Murphy has been skating on his own for the past few days and he's eligible to come off long-term injured reserve on Nov. 16 against the Nashville Predators.
The Blackhawks are hopeful that he'll be ready by then, and when Murphy does draw back into lineup, it should help provide some stability on defense in all situations.
"We hope so," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "He got a couple days of skating in, but we want to make sure that he's ready to go. We haven't had much of him this year. It's like five or six games, so he's a pretty big piece of our team and our D corps. I think our team performance is correlated to when he's in the lineup, so we want to get him in and we want to get him in for the rest of the year."
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