Connor Murphy’s leadership reflected in now-official Blackhawks alternate captaincy

Much like his father, Gord, a Rangers assistant, Hawks defenseman Connor Murphy seems destined for a career in coaching when his playing career ends.

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Connor Murphy has grown into an outspoken leader for the Blackhawks.

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NEWARK, N.J. — When Connor Murphy arrived in Chicago in 2017, the Blackhawks still were loaded with almost all of the veterans from their dynasty era.

That was fine at the time because Murphy was just coming into his own. But the presence of all of those voices — some powerful (Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook), some welcoming (Jonathan Toews), some insightful (Patrick Kane), some funny (Andrew Shaw) — overshadowed his own leadership potential.

Four years later, that’s no longer the case. Murphy, 28, has become one of the most important, respected voices in the Hawks’ locker room.

On Wednesday, he played his first game as an official alternate captain, wearing an “A” alongside Kane for road games (Alex DeBrincat wears it for home games) after doing so unofficially in the spring.

“It’s always an honor,” Murphy said. “But it’s one of those things that doesn’t really matter, in my opinion. To have a letter or not, you should act the same way, and that’s what I’ve learned off a lot of leaders we’ve had here in the past. It didn’t matter what they had on the jersey. It was just [about] how they acted and their presence around the team.

“We’ve been lucky to have amazing captains with ‘Tazer,’ ‘Kaner,’ ‘Cat’ now and ‘Shawzy’ before, and even ‘Seabs’ and ‘Duncs’ and those guys. It’s easy to see the things they do with their preparation, being a pro, and try to just follow in those guys’ footsteps.”

Since Keith’s summer trade made Murphy the Hawks’ longest-tenured defenseman, he has constantly and humbly downplayed the significance of it.

But coach Jeremy Colliton, whose arrival postdates Murphy’s, has watched the 6-4 defenseman’s personality grow immensely in recent years. And Colliton has no obligation to be humble on Murphy’s behalf.

“When you [come in among] guys who’ve been here for a long time, it’s sometimes hard to assert yourself in that way — just out of respect,” Colliton said. “But [Murphy’s] play has shown that he’s very important. When you play the way he does, you’re allowed to speak up. And that’s something he has embraced.”

Murphy’s familiarity with Colliton helps the entire team, too. For rookies with simple questions — Where’s dinner tonight? When does the bus leave? What’s the dress code? — Murphy has those answers.

And for more complicated tactical subjects, Murphy makes sure to offer young players explanations on top of what Colliton says, having learned from his early Hawks struggles under former coach Joel Quenneville.

“As a new guy, sometimes it’s hard to grasp it right away and really get the detail of it until you have games to play under your belt, to trial-and-error some things,” Murphy said. “It does help to talk to teammates about it and be able to go back and forth on different system ideas, instead of having to go back to the coach to ask him a question.”

Much like his father, Gord, a Rangers assistant under Gerard Gallant, Murphy seems destined for a career in coaching when his playing time ends. His simultaneously earnest and even-keel attitude, combined with his ability to make everyone in a room immediately feel at ease, creates boundless positive energy.

He’s good-natured at the right times. He can laugh about, for instance, teammates teasing him that he’ll lose his top spot in Hawks strength coach Paul Goodman’s fitness rankings whenever they see him “pick up a fry or piece of chocolate.”

He’s also serious at the right times, offering genuinely constructive criticism of himself and the team after tough losses. It’s nearly impossible to leave an encounter with Murphy feeling worse than before it.

For now, the Hawks continue to benefit from Murphy’s strong play and solid leadership. He’s on track to make his 500th career NHL appearance Oct. 24 against the Red Wings.

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