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Connor Murphy sticks his face in it, grows into sturdy defenseman for Blackhawks

The freeze frame looks like it’s out of a movie. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation, Connor Murphy would say, narrating the opening scene.

He’s flat on the ice, crashing into the boards, and a Predators player’s skate appears to be flying right at his mouth. Oh, great, another slash to a face that has been getting sliced up all season.

Fortunately for Murphy, and any potential post-hockey modeling dreams, he got away clean this time.

“Out of the corner of my eye I saw the skate, but it wasn’t as close as it looked,” he said, laughing at the photo after Blackhawks practice Friday. “It didn’t feel that scary. It was within a foot, but it wasn’t that close.”

Not as bad as it looks: Blackhawks D Connor Murphy avoided take a skate to the mouth here, but it's still been a rough year for his face. | Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

He showed the picture to Carl Dahlstrom sitting next to him. Dahlstrom grimaced. They imagined how badly it could’ve turned out.

“Another face one,” Murphy muttered. “Face instances are not going well for me.”

Everything else is, though. In his second year with the Hawks, he has grown into a building block.

Murphy is averaging 19:28 of ice time heading into Saturday’s game against the Golden Knights and is second on the team with 1.2 defensive point shares, a Hockey Reference stat measuring a player’s contribution to team success. Only Duncan Keith has more.

Murphy also has brought Dahlstrom along as an in-season call-up. Jeremy Colliton views them as a shutdown duo and sends them after the opponent’s best forwards.

“Our types of games really suit each other,” Dahlstrom said. “It’s nice to get the trust from the coaches to play against the top lines.”

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Murphy is a throwback to a more rugged era, which makes sense given that he’s the son of longtime defenseman Gord Murphy.

Two weeks after returning from a back injury that cost him the first two months of the season, he took an elbow from the Stars’ Tyler Pitlick that dealt him two black eyes and a gushing cut to his nose. The next weekend, the Avalanche’s Gabriel Landeskog caught his upper lip with a high stick.

Murphy shrugged. He lives for the collisions.

“You enjoy that in players,” Colliton said. “If you’re willing to get in there and be heavy in the battle, a lot of times you come out with the puck. Those guys are valuable.”

Murphy is in his sixth season, but this feels like his arrival.

The Hawks traded for him in the summer of 2017, and he wasn’t an instant hit with Joel Quenneville. He averaged a career-low 16:22 of ice time.

Murphy was figuring it out before the coaching change, and he has fit well with Colliton’s uptempo approach. He’s quick enough to play that way and has the muscle at 6-4, 212 pounds to be a modern version of the old-school defensive mashers.

“I’ve slowly gotten better at some things and still have a lot of room to get where I want to be,” Murphy said. “It was definitely a growth period the first half of last year, but that was kind of expected and it helped me to learn a lot. I definitely feel like I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable and adjusted to everyone here, too.”

The Hawks have a fearsome combination in him and Dahlstrom, the biggest player on the roster at 6-4, 231, and those two are learning from professors Keith and Brent Seabrook.

They have a combined 28 years of experience — all with the Hawks — and set the template for the young talent. This is grad school for Murphy, Dahlstrom, Henri Jokiharju, Erik Gustafsson and Gustav Forsling.

“Just having them in the room helps calm young guys down,” Murphy said of Seabrook and Keith. “They’ve represented this organization for so long and set that path that I think it’s good for guys to see the right way to mold into true pros.”

There’s a long way to go, but Murphy looks like he’s on the same track.

NOTE: The Hawks traded for Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek and upgraded their 2019 draft arsenal. They gave up defenseman Jan Rutta, who hasn’t played since Dec. 11, and swapped their seventh-round pick for the Lightning’s selection in the fifth round.