Blackhawks training camp had barely begun when Connor Murphy landed a big hit on Brandon Saad along the boards. For Murphy, who is known for his physical side, even new teammates weren’t safe.
“A couple of the guys are already talking about how they’re a little bumped and bruised from the last couple of days of him being physical on them,” Duncan Keith said of Murphy at the time. “He brings an element of physicality to our team that I don’t think we’ve had, especially on the back end, in a long time.”
That part of Murphy’s game was already there. Otherwise, there have been changes for the defenseman, who left Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury but was expected to be OK. After playing a more defensive, be-heavy-in-the-corners game with the Arizona Coyotes, Murphy is now getting used to the Blackhawks’ system. It’s different, but Murphy’s embracing it.
“I didn’t show as much offensive ability that I had maybe last year and I’d like to build on that with some shots from the point and being aggressive. Making sure you’re helping to pinch in in the O-zone at the right times and making it a five-man rush instead of just coasting up and letting your forwards do the work,” he said. “These forwards are so good at finding you if you come in late; it’ll be rewarding if you’re working hard going up and down the ice.”
Coach Joel Quenneville has liked a lot of things Murphy has brought thus far.
“I like his positional awareness, his size, he has physicality to his game, shoots pucks, has a big shot,” Quenneville said. “Once he gets more comfortable in how we play and the second nature of him being active defensively, offensively transitioning – we want to get our defense more involved and I think he’d like that as well.”
Dave Tippett coached Murphy in the defenseman’s first four seasons with the Coyotes. Paired with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Murphy had to learn fast. Tippett said there were times the young Murphy was put in situations that he may not have been ready for but that he kept improving.
“He’s a big guy and when we first got him he had to fill out a little. His attitude and his smarts are what I liked about him. He really has a passion to be a really good player and every day he comes to the rink trying to get better,” Tippett said. “He’s dialed into all the aspects of getting better: skating, nutrition, everything. He watched video, not just of his own stuff but also the team. He’ll have no problem adapting.”
Getting that veteran tutelage continues in Chicago, as Murphy’s been paired with Keith since the start of camp.
“People call him an offensive defenseman but to me, he just does everything so well,” Murphy said of Keith. “It seems like the offensive stuff comes natural and the defensive stuff, he puts himself in the right position all the time and his skating and conditioning allows him to eat up minutes and to do things well and consistently. That’s something you look at and it rubs off on other defensemen, on the team, when you see your top guy doing the right things and leading the way.”
Being physical comes natural to Murphy. Learning the Blackhawks’ system will be a work in progress for the 24-year-old, but the potential is there.
“You’ve gotta remember he’s a young player but there’s a lot of upside,” Tippett said. “He’s just starting to scratch the surface.”