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Morin hoping to take fast track to NHL

by Brian Fitzsimmons
Though Jeremy Morin's unique trait playfully amuses his family, it causes NHL scouts to gravitate toward him.

Morin grew up among three figures in his family that have played, or are playing, as left-handed defensemen. But the 17-year-old is a right-handed forward with a knack for scoring.

Such is why the most prolific offensive force for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program is a highly touted prospect, ranked No. 21 among North American skaters, for the upcoming NHL draft in June.

"It's funny," said Jeremy's brother Chad, who is currently a junior defenseman for Harvard. "Our cousin, J.D. Forrest, plays in Finland, our uncle played in college and our father was a player himself and we're all left-handed defensemen. (Jeremy) is the baby of the group and he went down his own path.

"He grew up with a puck on his stick. I can't explain it. We'll all make fun of him, but he rubs it in with all the goals he scores."

Chad, who also played for the NTDP in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has helped the Crimson become one of the elite defensive teams in the ECAC. His younger brother has chosen to forgo attending college and enter the NHL draft with hopes of stepping into hockey's brightest spotlight sooner than most.

"I'm just taking it step by step," Jeremy said. "It's definitely my dream to play in the NHL and I'm trying to reach that. It just felt like the right decision to do what I want to do. It's a good step toward that. Nothing against college, but this is the best fit for me right now to make it."

It was a difficult decision for Morin, who leads his team with 26 goals and 48 points in 46 games entering the International Ice Hockey Federation World Under-18 Championship in North Dakota and Minnesota, beginning Thursday.

"North Dakota, Boston University, they all impressed me," Morin said. "I really liked BU -- great coaches, great atmosphere. But I just didn't think it was the way to go for me right now, so I didn't choose it.

"I'm definitely looking forward to (the draft). I'm not trying to focus on it too much, though. I want to win at the tournament here, but I'm definitely looking forward to it."

Team USA's Under-18 squad has earned a medal in the last five championships, including gold medals in 2002, 2005 and 2006. Last year, it finished third to claim the bronze. Slated to be held on U.S. soil for the first time, the tournament likely will be a stage for Morin to impress scouts even more.

"We're all really excited for it," Morin said. "It's a privilege to work with each other, and for two years we've gotten really close. We've been working for this for two years now and we're all really excited."

In fact, that excitement has been embedded in Morin because of his older brother.

"My brother played (for this team) and I got into it because of that," Morin said. "I saw the hard work he went through, and it's a good program and there was my decision."

Regardless of how the 10-team tournament plays out, Morin will have a lot to look forward to -- and a lot to hurdle. After all, it's not everyday a player his age makes a splash in the rough waters of professional hockey.

"I'm a little nervous, but it's out of my control," Morin said. "What happens, happens (on draft day). Just the opportunity to get drafted, it's just exciting.

"I'm just taking it step by step. It's definitely my dream to play in the NHL and I'm trying to reach that. It just felt like the right decision to do what I want to do. It's a good step toward that. Nothing against college, but this is the best fit for me right now to make it."
-- Jeremy Morin

"It's just a part of hockey. There's always going to young guys and there's always going to be veteran guys. You've got to work your way up, show something and earn people's respect."

The Auburn, N.Y. native isn't worried about paying his dues, especially since several youngsters have broken into the NHL at an early age -- such as 18-year-old Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Nikita Filatov.

"There's definitely more of that, a lot of young guys breaking in," Morin said. "Just to break into the AHL or the NHL, there are a lot of guys to have done it. It's obviously the goal. (Filatov is) one of the most skilled guys I've ever played against. He does the little things you can't teach."

Aside from his eye-popping talent, Morin will have his family behind him.

"He's worked extremely hard for this," Chad said. "I'd like him to know it's only the beginning. It will be very gratifying for all his hard work, but it's just the beginning for him."

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