In the aftermath of Derek Morris' departure, the search for Keith Yandle's next defensive partner is in full swing. The favorite heading into training camp may very well be a 21-year-old second-year player.
The Arizona Coyotes drafted Connor Murphy 20th overall in 2011 NHL Entry Level Draft. Like many other Coyotes draft picks, Murphy's father was a NHL hockey player. Gord Murphy played in the NHL from 1988 to 2002 with the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and Atlanta Thrashers.
Murphy is a product of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, one of an increasingly large number of players to come from that program, and represented Team USA in 2011 IIHF World U18 Championships as well as the 2013 World Junior Championships, winning gold medals with both teams.
After spending two years in the OHL with the Sarnia Sting, Murphy started last season with the Portland Pirates of the AHL. It wasn't long until he was called up, however, making his NHL debut on Nov. 16 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He scored his first, and so far only, goal in his first NHL game.
With injuries sidelining a few Coyotes defenseman this past season, Murphy had the opportunity to play big minutes for the team. Over 30 games, his average time on ice was close to 18 minutes, although he played more than 20 minutes in 11 of those games. His career high for time on ice is currently 26:50 in a 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche this past December.
Although fans will have to wait until the season starts to be sure, many expect Murphy to take Morris' old spot next to Yandle. Morris was not re-signed this offseason and the Boston native seems poised to compete for a spot in the top-4.
On paper, Yandle and Murphy compliment each other very well. Murphy can hopefully be a stabling defensive force while Yandle can continue to rack up the points. Murphy did spend part of last season playing tough minutes with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, so it is fairly safe to assume coach Dave Tippett has faith in his abilities. It seems extremely possible the two Bostonians will be skating together come October.