Everett Silvertips GM Doug Soetaert wasn't planning on taking Ryan Murray -- or any defenseman -- in the first round of the 2008 WHL bantam draft.
He needed a forward, and was trying to move up to get an elite goal-scorer such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the eventual top pick who also went first at the 2011 NHL draft last June.
"It didn't happen," Soetaert says.
So instead, the Washington State-based major junior club used its ninth-overall selection on Murray, an undersized (5-foot-9, 165 pounds at the time) but silky smooth D-man they decided was the best player still on the board. Now, hearing Soetaert talk about it three years later, you get the sense he believes he got the best guy period.
"Ryan's game is as solid as anyone I've seen come out of our league, and I've seen [Luke] Schenn, I've seen [Tyler] Myers," Soetaert says. "As a 17-year-old last season, he was way ahead of those two at the same age. I don't want to use this comparison, but he reminds me of Ray Bourque."
Praise doesn't get much higher for Canadian-born defensemen. But Murray, now 18, is also getting plenty of love from outside the Silvertips' organization. In his annual pre-season draft ranking, TSN analyst Bob McKenzie projects Murray as the fourth overall pick, behind consensus No. 1 Nail Yakupov of Russia by way of Sarnia, Canadian Mathew Dumba and Swede Filip Forsberg. (In case you were wondering, Bourque went 8th in 1979.)
"[Murray's] a pretty special player," says Don Hay, coach of Canada's national junior squad.
Murray's own coach, Mark Ferner, is in his first season in Everett. He was well aware of his star defenseman's talent coming in after Murray notched 46 points (6 goals, 40 assists) and led the team with a plus-18 last season. But at training camp this September, Ferner, a former journeyman blueliner with the Buffalo Sabres, Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings, was more impressed with the youngster's professionalism.
"For a guy that put up some pretty big numbers, his focus isn't on that," Ferner says. "It's on details, on trying to get better every day. His work ethic is second to none for such a young player, given the pressure that gets put on him from media and others."
Murray's character figures to wow NHL teams when Murray hits the pre-draft interview trail next spring. This season, the rest of the package probably will, too.
At 6-1, 195, the White City, Saskatchewan native added four inches and 30 pounds over the last three summers. And while the stats suggest a playmaking D-man, those who've seen him play say that's selling him short. Murray's combination of strength, skating ability and smarts means he hardly ever puts a foot wrong defensively. He's the type of guy who always seems to make the right play.
Apparently, his wind isn't bad, either.
"He could easily play 35 minutes a night and not be worn down," Ferner says. "And he'd be able to do that the next night, too."
His coaches either can't or won't pinpoint any one area Murray needs to work on in preparation for the next level. But the player himself doesn't hesitate when asked where he can improve his game.
"I've definitely been working on my shooting, on becoming more of an offensive threat," Murray said during the preseason. "I only had six goals last year, so I'm trying to put the puck in the net more. There's always things you can work on, even the things you're already good at. I'm always trying to get everything better."
After missing more than a month of action with a high ankle sprain suffered in a WHL tilt against Brandon on Oct. 19, Murray is expected to return to Everett's lineup this week -- just in time to try and make Team Canada for next month's World Junior Championships.
Making that roster would be a tremendous feat, but a solid performance in Alberta could raise Murray's stock even higher. Three years from now, don't be surprised if he's considered the cream of the 2012 crop.