That standout performance saw him drafted 12th overall by the Cincinnati Stingers of the WHA and 6th overall by the New York Rangers in the 1976 NHL Amateur Draft.
He opted to sign with the Rangers and wasted little time making an impact, scoring a goal 8:11 into his first NHL game against the Minnesota North Stars when he scored on a power play from Ken Hodge and Phil Esposito. He would add a second goal, again on the power play, at 14:28 of the second period from Esposito and Rod Gilbert. Two nights later Murdoch would score his third goal of the young season on October 8th from Gilbert and Carol Vadnais, yet again on a power play.
After being held scoreless on October 9th against St. Louis, Murdoch took to the ice for just his fourth NHL game on this date in 1976 against Minnesota once again. Despite the teams trading six goals in the first period, 4 by the Rangers and 2 for Minnesota, Murdoch was held off the scoresheet despite three Rangers power play opportunities.
Both the North Stars Gary Smith and the Rangers Gilles Gratton seemed to have settled down after the wild first period as neither team was able to score for the first eight minutes of the second period, the longest scoreless stretch of the game so far, until Murdoch beat Gratton at 8:23 for his fourth goal of the season and his first at even strength from Dan Newman and Pete Stemkowski. The North Stars responded with a pair of goals at 9:46 and 11:31 to make the score 5-4 for New York, but exactly one minute later, Murdoch struck again at 12:31 from Walt Tkaczuk and Greg Polis to extend the Rangers advantage back to two. With Minnesota's Tim Young in the penalty box, Murdoch completed his hat trick with his third goal of the period and sixth of his career in just his fourth game when he beat Smith with just ten seconds remaining in the second period from Vadnais and Hodge.
After Gilbert put New York ahead 8-4 at 11:28, Murdoch did it again, scoring his fourth goal of the night from Tkaczuk and Polis at 17:32. Finally, with just five seconds left in the game, Murdoch earned a spot in NHL history when he scored his fifth goal of the game, this one unassisted, to become only the second rookie in NHL history after Howie Meeker in 1947 to score 5 goals as a rookie, although it took Meeker until January 8, making Murdoch easily the quickest to do so from the start of his career - just four games! Murdoch was the 22nd player in the then 60 year history of the NHL to score five goals in a game and the first rookie in 30 years to accomplish the feat.
"I'll tell you, something like that you never forget," Murdoch recalled. "It was one of those nights that everything I touched went in. It was something else. I can remember the fifth goal. We were up 9-4 and we had a power play. [Head Coach John Ferguson] says 'Put the kid out again.' and we went out on a draw. Esposito was my centerman and Phil told me to stand right there. There was a12 seconds left and the faceoff was in Minnesota's end and he said; 'Don't move, I will get you the puck.' And sure as heck, Phil got the puck to me adn I slapped it in the bottom corner for the fifth goal. It was really crazy, especially being in New York. It took off really wild. I had three goals in the other games and everywhere I went, all the reporters were flocking to find out who is this unknown guy. I had no idea at all it would be that quick."
Murdoch would go on to score 15 goals in his first 15 games and eventually score 32 goals and 56 points that season (both Rangers rookie records) before a season ending torn Achilles tendon in February ended his season after just 59 games. He finished fourth in team scoring behind Esposito, Gilbert and Hodge as a rookie, while his nearly point per game average was level with Esposito and Gilbert and would have seen him challenging for the team points lead had he maintained that average over all 80 games.
The shine was taken off his stellar rookie season when he was arrested during the offseason by customs agents in Toronto with 4.5 grams of cocaine in his socks.
Still, he returned for the 1977-78 season, playing in 66 games, scoring 27 goals and 55 points, falling just one short of his rookie point total thanks to two ankle surgeries, a slipped disc in his back and a shoulder injury. His arrest came back to haunt him, as he was suspended by the NHL for the entire 1978-79 season after pleading guilty to the drug possession charges, which was later reduced to 40 games on appeal, which allowed Murdoch to play half the season, during which he scored 15 goals and 36 points. New York went on a lengthy playoff run, which gave Murdoch a chance to play in an additional 18 games, scoring an additional 7 goals and 12 points to place fourth in Rangers playoff scoring as they eventually lost in the Stanley Cup Finals.
During the 1979-80 season, he would score 23 goals and 42 points in 56 games for New York before being traded in March to the Edmonton Oilers for Cam Connor and a third round draft pick. In 10 games with Edmonton, Murdoch added another 5 goals and 7 points to set a new a career high with 59 points.
The 1980-81 season saw Murdoch lose his place in the NHL, playing 40 games with the Oilers, scoring 10 goals and 19 points before being sent down to the Wichita Wind of the Central Hockey League. After 25 points in 22 regular season games, he finished third on the team in playoff scoring with 17 goals and 24 points in 18 games as Wichita lost in the league finals.
For the 1981-82 season, Murdoch's rights were dealt to the Detroit Red Wings. He played 49 NHL games with Detroit, but his scoring touch was fading, as he managed just 9 goals. He would also play in 24 games with their top minor league affiliate, the Adirondack Red Wings of the American Hockey League, scoring 24 points.
His 49 games with Detroit would prove to be his last in the NHL, as he split his time between Adirondack of the AHL (35 games) and the Montana Magic of the CHL (17) with a combined 36 goals and 66 points in 76 games in 1983-84.
Murdoch would play for the Muskegon Lumberjacks in 1984-85, but only saw action in just 32 games while scoring his customary point per game average with 31 points in 32 games.
The final season of his playing career came in 1985-86, as he played for Muskegon (12 games), the Indianapolis Checkers (11) and the Toledo Goaldiggers (37) before retiring as a player.
Murdoch's final NHL totals were 121 goals and 116 assists for 237 points in 320 games over the course of just six seasons despite the impressive start to his rookie season which held the promise of so much more. It proved to be too much too soon in the heart of Manhattan, where his sudden stardom led to his drinking habit becoming a drug problem. After Murdoch scored five goals in a game as an NHL rookie in 1976, no other rookie has duplicated his feat in now 41 seasons.
Today's featured jersey is a 1980-81 Wichita Wind Don Murdoch jersey as worn by Murdoch during his first stint in the minor leagues as his once so promising career began to unravel.
Wichita's first season of play was the 1980-81 season and they made it all the way to Game 7 of the CHL Finals. The franchise lasted only three seasons, two of which were as the Oilers affiliate and their final season in cooperation with the New Jersey Devils.
Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1979-80 Edmonton Oilers Don Murdoch jersey as worn during the Oilers first season in the NHL. Prior to joining the NHL, the lettering of the Oilers jerseys was a lower contrast orange on white, changing to a much more visible blue for their arrival in the NHL.
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions