When NHL free agency opened last summer, defenseman Ryan Murphy had a couple of offers for his services, but choosing to sign with the Wild was an easy decision.
“I looked up their lineup on the ‘D’ corps and as much as there’s a lot of good ‘D’ down in Iowa, I figured I had a good chance of excelling down there in Iowa and hopefully be the first call-up,” Murphy said.
The 24-year-old’s forecast was spot on; not only was Murphy steady in his debut with the Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate, but he also was the first one ushered up to the NHL when the Wild’s depth took a hit.
And ever since his promotion, Murphy hasn’t left the lineup — capitalizing on the chance to pick up regular minutes with Jared Spurgeon on the mend.
“It’s tough when you’re playing down in Iowa. You have a bad game, you’re doubting yourself and wondering if you’re ever going to get that call,” Murphy said. “If you have a good game, you’re waiting for that call-up to happen.
“So it’s definitely a roller-coaster ride waiting to get called up. But nonetheless, when you get your chance, you gotta seize the opportunity and make it hard for them to send you back down.”
Murphy made his seventh consecutive appearance Tuesday against the Flames, the team that bought Murphy out last summer following a trade from the Hurricanes to make him a free agent.
At the time, coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t know if Murphy signing a one-year, two-way contract was a depth addition or a purely minor league acquisition. It turned out to be the former, with Murphy — a first-round pick by the Hurricanes in 2011 — slotting into the top six after Spurgeon went down Nov. 27 with a groin strain.
“He’s gotten better every game for us,” Boudreau said.
Through his first six games with the Wild, Murphy has averaged nearly 18 minutes of ice time per game, filled out a second pairing with Jonas Brodin and assumed a role on the power play — an assignment that led to his first goal in 69 NHL games Sunday in the Wild’s 4-3 overtime win over the Sharks.
“I feel good about my game,” Murphy said, “and hopefully I continue to make strides every day.”
Spurgeon could rejoin the Wild at practice Wednesday.
“I’m hoping he’s an option this week at some point,” Boudreau said. “But I’m not the doctor.”
Winger Zach Parise’s return to practice isn’t as imminent, although he continues to recover after undergoing back surgery that relieved pressure on a nerve causing leg pain and weakness and is now working with pucks.
“He feels great talking to him [Tuesday],” Boudreau said. “There’s no pain. So I don’t know when his due date is to play, but I’m sure it’s sooner than later.”
Mix and match
Having an extra forward and defenseman on the roster amplifies the pressure on the players to perform, and it also allows Boudreau to tinker with his lineup — flexibility he continued to utilize, as he once again switched up the Wild’s look against the Flames.
Winger Tyler Ennis was the odd man out up front, with defenseman Mike Reilly idle again after sitting out Sunday.
“We’ve done a little bit of a rotation,” Boudreau said. “I assume the rotation is going to stop fairly soon, but right now guys are playing good and then they get out of the lineup and then they get back in and they’re playing good.”
Boudreau kept Daniel Winnik at center and Joel Eriksson Ek on the wing.
The coach likes Eriksson Ek up the middle but said he may end up as a winger because of his forechecking ability. As for Winnik, his recent switch from wing to center has looked seamless.