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Morrison's scoring carrying Wheeling Nailers

by Brian Compton

"He's not a rah-rah type of guy. But I think he leads by example. He's not afraid to say something if something needs to be said, but I think his biggest attribute is his work ethic."
-- Wheeling coach Greg Puhalski on Jordan Morrison

The resurgence of the Wheeling Nailers has been built around a youth movement -- one that has come together faster than anyone could have possibly expected.

Jordan Morrison is at the center of it all. The 22-year-old is thriving in his first professional season, as he leads the Nailers with 40 points (12 goals, 28 assists) in just 30 games. Wheeling currently sits atop the North Division at 20-5-5.

"We have such a young team and everyone wants to prove themselves," Morrison told "Half of our team is rookies. In our case, it definitely made for a good situation. There's a lot of desire in our room to win games."

Morrison arrived in Wheeling after playing both junior and collegiate hockey. A seventh-round selection of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2004, Morrison had 132 points in his final two seasons with the Peterborough Petes in the Ontario Hockey League.

After failing to sign a deal with the Pens, Morrison decided to go to school. In two seasons with Dalhousie University, the Uxbridge, Ontario native had 70 points in just 53 games. He plans on finishing his degree after this season.

"After playing juniors, I decided I should probably get my schooling," Morrison said. "You never know what can happen in hockey or how it will work out. I should be done by the end of the summer."

In the meantime, though, Morrison continues to make a name for himself within the Penguins' organization. Wheeling coach Greg Puhalski has been thrilled with the way Morrison has carried himself both on and off the ice.

"He's not a rah-rah type of guy," Puhalski said. "But I think he leads by example. He's not afraid to say something if something needs to be said, but I think his biggest attribute is his work ethic."

The hard work has played a huge role in Morrison's impressive start -- a start nobody saw coming, including Morrison himself.

"I didn't really have any expectations … I just wanted to get used to the pro game," Morrison said. "I knew there was going to be an adjustment period, but I didn't think it was going to be this quick. I'm happy with what I've done so far."

It helped that Morrison had a brief taste of the ECHL at the end of last season. After finishing his collegiate campaign, Morrison received a call from the Texas Wildcatters. He had three points in four regular-season games before going 2-2-4 in nine postseason contests.

"I played pretty well in Texas," Morrison said. "It was kind of difficult because I was probably off the ice for about six or seven weeks when I got the call to go down there. By the end of it, I felt pretty good about myself."

While the offensive game has been there all season long, the Penguins would like to see Morrison work on his frame. At 6-foot and 170 pounds, Morrison is working hard to bulk up.

"My whole life, the knock's been just to get stronger," Morrison said. "I'm working on that. We're in the gym all the time here. It's just learning to play with bigger, stronger guys."

Puhalski has also been urging Morrison to shoot the puck more. His ability to see the ice and make plays in the offensive end has lead to his tremendous amount of assists. Now, Puhalski wants to see Morrison turn on the red light more often.

"He's not the biggest guy in the world," Puhalski said. "He's gotten better and playing away from the puck. He can shoot the puck more, and I think that's something he's done lately. He's more natural at trying to look for the pass, but God gave him an ability to score. If he doesn't use it, it's a shame."

But if he does, it could only be a matter of time before Morrison gets the call from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the American Hockey League. Puhalski is confident that Morrison will get a look in the AHL before the 2008-09 season concludes.

"My whole life, the knock's been just to get stronger.  I'm working on that. We're in the gym all the time here. It's just learning to play with bigger, stronger guys." -- Jordan Morrison
"Right now, it's just a matter of how it sits with their bodies," Puhalski said. "A couple of guys who played here have moved on. I'm sure Wilkes-Barre would have no hesitation calling upon Jordan if they need a player. Pittsburgh always makes sure they've got good depth throughout the organization."

Morrison understands he's involved in a numbers game. Should he receive a promotion to the AHL, he knows it's his job to make it difficult for the Penguins to send him back to Wheeling.

"There's always injuries and trades and everything like that," Morrison said. "You've just got to wait for your chance, and when you get your chance you've got to make the most of it."
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