BUFFALO – Not long ago, the Sabres made a deal with Brett Murray, a prospect whose commitment to conditioning wasn’t up to pro standards.
“What we told him was, ‘Look, you have to make the commitment. If you make a commitment and we see it in development camp, we’ll bring you to the rookie tournament,’” Sabres assistant general manager Randy Sexton said prior to Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins inside Harborcenter.
The Sabres liked what the 6-foot-5, 236-pound forward showed them in late June.
“We told him after development camp, ‘Good job, you’re coming to the rookie tournament,’” Sexton said.
So Murray, 21, has been participating in the Prospects Challenge. On Saturday, he looked comfortable centering the fourth line, showcasing physicality and offense.
Murray misfired on a second-period breakaway shortly before assisting on winger Matej Pekar’s second goal.
If the former fourth-round pick demonstrates “continued commitment,” to his fitness, according to Sexton, the Sabres will bring him to their AHL training camp with the Rochester Americans.
“He’s not going to get a contract out of this tournament, but if he does a good job, he’s going to make it one step closer to getting a contract,” Sexton said.
Murray, the 99th overall selection by the Sabres’ old regime in 2016, is an intriguing youngster.
He’s the tallest and heaviest player on Buffalo’s tournament roster. After leaving Penn State and returning to the junior Youngstown Phantoms last season, his 41 goals topped the United States Hockey League. His 76 points ranked second.
“He has the size and the skill,” Sexton said. “He’s shown the ability to score goals.”
Well, at least in junior. Murray struggled during his season and a half with Penn State. In 33 games – Murray joined the Nittany Lions halfway through the 2016-17 campaign – he mustered only one goal and seven points.
“Playing time and the whole situation, I wasn’t progressing,” Murray said Friday. “Personally, it wasn’t the best situation for me.”
So Murray said he made “a difficult decision” to leave the program.
“I loved the guys there,” he said. “It was a great school, fantastic facilities. It just wasn’t working out hockey-wise, so I decided to switch and try something else.”
Phantoms assistant coach Nick Peruzzi said Murray returned to Youngstown with “a little chip on his shoulder” and “something to prove.”
“He knew what kind of type of player he was, he knew that he could be an impact player, and he certainly was for us,” Peruzzi said.
Murray was often dominant, especially around the net, where he utilized his massive frame and soft hands.
“There’s not a better player, at least in my time, that I’ve seen to be able to navigate those waters,” Peruzzi said.
Peruzzi said Murray scored about 28 to 30 of his goals in close.
“He loves going to the hard area,” he said.
Murray, of course, is cognizant his size will only take him so far as a pro.
“I got the size, but also I’ve been really working on footwork, speed, chipping the puck down low, getting the puck, creating space for my linemates,” he said.
He added: “You put it all together, hopefully it makes a pro player.”
Winger Victor Olofsson’s wicked one-timer from the right circle broke a 1-1 tie on the power play 12:23 into second period.
Pekar scored twice later in the period. Center Rasmus Asplund opened the scoring for the Sabres.
The Bruins scored twice late to make it close.
The Sabres scratched center Dylan Cozens, the seventh overall pick. Cozens, who’s healthy, scored in Friday’s 6-4 win over the New Jersey Devils.