-- When you're as young and talented as forward Jeremy Morin
is, most of life's choices are good ones.
Be a budding AHL prospect for Rockford? Get a breakthrough start with the Chicago Blackhawks
? Help the United States defend its World Junior Championship title starting this weekend in Buffalo?
Why choose when the answer to all of the above can be yes?
Such is the quality of Morin's career buffet at the moment after the Blackhawks agreed to let him join Team USA's training camp Monday. Morin skated with his new teammates Tuesday morning, in advance of Tuesday night's exhibition game against the Czech Republic here at The Sports Centre at MCC.
"It's exciting. I was in-between. I didn't know what I was going to do," Morin said. "It's a good opportunity for us to repeat and hopefully get gold."
Morin spoke in an arctic corridor with his sweaty practice shirt draped over his bare torso. Just then, Team USA head coach Keith Allain walked by, spotted his potential offensive meal ticket virtually putting out a welcome mat for a cough or cold, and told him to cover up.
Ever resourceful, Morin yanked on a red Rockford IceHogs shirt. Such window dressing doesn't matter. Regardless of the garb, Morin looks like the centerpiece of his country's new crop of offensive finishers.
"It's a shot in the arm," Team USA general manager Jim Johannson said of Morin's arrival. "He's really matured his game. He's become such a complete player. We're counting on him for some offense in this event. Now he gets to be a guy who's counted on to have more responsibility."
Morin, 19, comes to that role well-prepared. He has 7 goals and 4 assists in 19 AHL games for Rockford, along with 2 goals and 1 assist in nine NHL games with the Blackhawks. But Morin looked like he might be denied a chance for a double-dream with the U.S. because of injuries in Chicago. He missed Team USA's exhibition shootout loss to RPI on Sunday.
Monday, however, the Blackhawks released him for the tournament. For a player who would be in the NHL right now if not for the World Juniors -- the AHL is on holiday break -- Morin took his re-assignment as though it came wrapped and with a big bow.
"It's out of my control. I play wherever I'm at," Morin said. "It's a win-win situation. It's two great places to be (Chicago and with Team USA)."
Allain said he thought the Blackhawks carried the same mindset when it came to freeing up Morin, a second-round pick by Atlanta in 2009 who joined the Blackhawks as part of this past summer's Dustin Byfuglien
"Obviously Chicago had some injury problems. He came up. He didn't just fill the guys' spots -- he played well," Allain said. "It was nice for them to let him come play. I think they see this as an important part of his development."
Morin, well on his way to a strong physical base with a 6-foot-1, 189-pound frame, agreed that his skills would benefit from this sort of wintertime diversion.
"I had a good talk with them about that," he said of his conversation with Chicago officials. "It's coming here, rounding out my game."
Still, Allain and Johansson hope the trait that first put Morin on the national radar is the one that remains most obvious. Morin has long been one of the country's top finishers, scoring 28 goals for the national Under-17 team in 2007-08 and 33 goals for the U-18 squad a season later. In 2009-10, he had 47 goals in 58 games for Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League.
Morin was a third-liner on last year's World Juniors team, contributing 2 goals and 5 assists for Team USA. As one of six returning forwards those numbers figure to trend upward this year.
"I think there's a maturity in his game. I think it probably started in last year's world tournament," Allain said.
"I definitely think, coming back, there is a little bit of a comfort level," Morin said. "Whatever role I'm put in, I'm going to accept it. I don't think there's any pressure. I'm going to try to bring offense."
Team USA's final roster will be announced Wednesday morning, a logistical detail that's likely nothing more than a rubber stamp in Morin's case. His training from last year already has him narrowing in on the proper focus as talk of a U.S. repeat on its home soil comes to a boil.
"It's a good opportunity for us," he said, "but at the same time we can't live in last year's tournament. We have to think of it as a new tournament."