Matt Murray said he had no idea the Pittsburgh Penguins were interested in him.
The Thunder Bay netminder was in the Steel City this weekend for the NHL Entry Draft, and was taken by surprise when the hometown team called his name in the third round, 83rd overall.
"It was completely unexpected," he said, reached by phone while watching a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game, a post-draft wind down ahead of a planned family celebration Saturday night.
"I hadn't talked to Pittsburgh before the draft."
Murray, who spent the past two seasons with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, had spoken extensively with the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres ahead of the draft, the former team visiting him in Thunder Bay, the latter flying him to upstate New York for a workout and interview.
The 18th-ranked North American goalie heading into the draft, according to the NHL's Central Scouting, the 18-year-old Murray said hearing his name called out by the Penguins brass, a group that included superstar owner Mario Lemieux, is still just a blur.
"I can't even remember it," he said, adding that Lemieux and company wished him luck and welcomed him to the team, as the frenzied Penguins faithful cheered him putting the black and gold jersey on for the very first time. "It was such a crazy surreal moment."
Hearing that cheer sent shivers down Murray's spine, likely forever ending his boyhood crush on the Toronto Maple Leafs, his favourite team growing up.
"It was pretty cool. It made it that much more special," said Murray, a graduate of the Thunder Bay Kings program, just the second minor midget player from the organization directly drafted into the Ontario Hockey League.
Of course, less than 24 hours earlier, the Penguins had Murray's attention for a different reason. The crowd went nuts, he said, when it was announced that six-year veteran forward and Thunder Bay native Jordan Staal had been dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes, where he'll hook up with older brother Eric - and possbily youngest brother Jared - in Raleigh, N.C. next season.
Staal, a pending unrestricted free agent after the 2012-13 campaign, will be tremendously missed in Pittsburgh, Murray said.
"It's unfortunate to see him go because he's such a good player," Murray said.
A bronze-medallist who backstopped Team Canada to the podium at the recent World Under 18 Hockey Championship, the St. Patrick High School grad-to-be said he had no idea when and by whom he'd be drafted, and tried not to think about it too much before arriving in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
"I tried coming in here with no expectations," he said, his mother, father and father's best friend along for the ride.
He's looking forward to his first NHL training camp, said Murray, who tweeted he was still in shock after being picked, but absolutely honoured to be a part of such a great organization, one that boasts three Stanley Cups in the past 21 years. Of course he'll be learning from one of the game's best, he said.
"Having Marc-Andre Fleury here, I mean, he’s one of the best goalies in the league. He’s definitely one of the best guys to learn from. So I think it’s definitely a good spot for a goalie to be … The Penguins have been one of my favorite teams. It’s just such an unbelievable experience. I don’t think it has quite settled in yet. It’s just absolutely unbelievable," he told the team's website.
The 6-foot-4 Murray was the 10th goalie taken, on Day 2 of the draft and the sixth in the goaltender-heavy third round.
Penguins director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton said Murray isn't ready yet, but the tools are there.
"He has some things he has to work on but we like his size, we like his athleticism … We’re excited about him. He has a ways to go but he’s got lots of tools and lots of opportunities to get better," Sexton said.
The Penguins also have Thunder Bay defenceman Robert Bortuzzo in the fold.
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