Rozner: Blackhawks' Murphy is having fun playing hockey again, and it shows

 
 
Updated 2/12/2019 2:32 PM
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  • Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy gets the puck away from Vegas Golden Knights center William Karlsson. Since returning Dec. 9, Murphy has been as solid as any Hawks defenseman in his own end, and it's not a coincidence that the Hawks have gone 14-9-4 heading into Tuesday's game in Boston.

    Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy gets the puck away from Vegas Golden Knights center William Karlsson. Since returning Dec. 9, Murphy has been as solid as any Hawks defenseman in his own end, and it's not a coincidence that the Hawks have gone 14-9-4 heading into Tuesday's game in Boston. Associated PRess/Jan. 12, 2019

A year ago, it was fair to wonder if Connor Murphy had a future in Chicago.

The stay-at-home defenseman looked anything but at home in a Blackhawks uniform and was having trouble finding regular work in the top six.

Having missed the start of this season with a back injury, Murphy was the forgotten man, but since returning Dec. 9, Murphy has been as solid as any Hawks defenseman in his own end, and it's not a coincidence that the Hawks have gone 14-9-4 heading into Tuesday's game in Boston.

Quietly -- very quietly -- Murphy's had a huge effect.

So what's changed?

"Confidence. It's such a big thing," the 25-year-old Murphy said. "Comfort level with the guys and the organization, feeling part of it and making an impact.

"Still a ways to go to be where I want to be, but it's something everyone wants, to play a role and contribute to wins."

Murphy has done that, putting behind him the trade that sent fan favorite Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona. The Hawks knew what they were giving up, but a big part of the return was Murphy's youth, size and cost certainty.

He had been the captain of the U.S. team at the worlds, and at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, the Hawks were thinking they had someone who could add stability on the back end long term.

Murphy is starting to look like the guy they thought they traded for in 2017.

"It's different going from a non-hockey market to what it's like here," Murphy said. "With us struggling, and I was scratched a few times the first half of last year, you try to ignore things you see come out, things said about you as a player.

"You have to adjust and not get bothered by the outside noise and just worry about what you can do to help the team. It's just about being happy here and knowing we have the players and the tools and the staff to help get to the level where I want to be."

Still, Murphy didn't exactly have it easy this season, having to sit out the first 10 weeks while hurt and watch a coaching change occur before his eyes, learning a new system with a view from the press box.

"I did a lot of thinking over the summer and when I was injured, and my main goal was to not worry about those things," Murphy said. "All you can do as a player is worry about what you can do, your process of preparation for each game and each practice.

"Do what you can do every shift and help in your way."

In a game last week, Murphy twice took Edmonton's Connor McDavid off the puck. In order to cut off a player with world-class speed and know you're going to make the right play, there has to be a high confidence level.

"It comes from a lot of things," Murphy said. "Confidence in the work I put in when I was injured with Paul (Goodman) and Patrick (Becker), our strength and rehab guys, confidence in my conditioning and my strength.

"Working with Jeremy (Colliton) and Donny Granato, these guys let you play and you can tell they have trust in you.

"They understand you make mistakes and they try to teach you the ebbs and flows of the game that can make you more successful. They have a lot of positivity that leads to excitement and confidence when you're out there."

It's also not a coincidence that Carl Dahlstrom was recalled Dec. 12 and the two have been paired together frequently since they both got back on the UC ice surface.

"What's cool is we think alike," Murphy said. "We have that aggressive defensive mentality of wanting to shut down forwards.

"He's such a good skater and such an enthusiastic guy who wants to keep learning and he holds himself to a high standard of play.

"We sit next to each other in the room, we work together at the end of morning skates. It's fun for me to have a guy like him to play with who has a hunger to grow his game.

"He's a bit of perfectionist, too."

And with Hawks having gotten hot, Murphy does not seek any credit. Rather, he's excited about being a part of victories.

"Winning feels so good," Murphy said. "I want to be in the playoffs so bad. I haven't been there yet.

"I've played four and a half years in the NHL and it hurts really bad going home for the summer in April. Sitting at home watching the playoffs is not fun.

"I'm not gonna be a guy that scores a lot of goals or play on the power play. I just want to do what I can to help defend and help win.

"It's nice to get rewarded for certain ways of playing. As a team you see how to win and it's important to keep building on that if you want to be a playoff team."

The Hawks still have a mountain to climb, but at least hockey is fun again for Connor Murphy.

That's a pretty decent place to begin.

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