The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were working on a power play against Hershey in a preseason contest at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Rookie defenseman Joe Morrow, 19, slid into shooting position on the point. The puck glided across the ice toward his feet. Morrow pulled back his stick and unleashed the blade into the puck, sending the rubber scorching past goaltender Braden Holtby and into the net.
“It’s gotta be good genetics or something,” Morrow said after the game of his blistering shot. “I couldn’t tell you how I shoot the puck and I couldn’t teach someone how to shoot the puck. It’s just kind of there.”
What’s also there is Morrow’s immense talent. Watching Morrow on the ice, it’s easy to see why the Penguins selected him in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft.
Morrow’s greatest asset is probably his skating. He glides effortlessly on the ice, whether he’s back tracking defensively or joining the rush offensively. Also, Morrow is brilliant with the puck on his stick. He keeps his head up while coolly maneuvering through traffic. And of course there is that monster shot from the point.
“We think Joe obviously has a lot of potential and raw ability, now it’s really the process of getting him to use his skill set and his abilities at the right times and in the right situations and within a team concept,” WBS head coach John Hynes said. “He has a shot that I think you can utilize as a shooting presence on the power play, and five on five. … He likes to use it. It’s definitely a weapon.”
Morrow, who is beginning his first season of play in the American Hockey League, enjoyed a decorated junior career in Portland. During four-plus seasons with the Winterhawks (2008-12) he compiled 33 goals, 118 assists, 151 points and a plus-38 rating in 227 contests, while helping his team reach back-to-back WHL finals in his last two seasons (falling to Kootenay in 2011 and Edmonton in 2012).
In 2011-12, Morrow set career highs in goals (17), power-play goals (10), assists (47) and points (64). He finished as the leading scorer on the Winterhawks blue line, an impressive feat considering the defensive corps boasts essentially two other first-round NHL talents in Derrick Pouliot (Pittsburgh’s eighth-overall pick in 2012) and Seth Jones (projected by many as the No. 1-overall pick in 2013).
Morrow’s game has progressed to the next level and he’s made the jump to professional hockey, joining WBS.
“It’s been fun so far. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time to start a new chapter in my life,” he said.
Making the jump to professional hockey is a demanding transition for junior players both on and off the ice. Morrow isn’t merely adjusting to the level of play in the pros, he’s living on his own for the first time in his life – no billets or parents. And even though Morrow is now responsible for rent and cooking his own meals, he doesn’t consider himself a grown up…yet.
“I wouldn’t classify myself as an adult, not yet. I’m still a kid,” Morrow said. “I’m pretty familiar with the city. I’m comfortable with it now.
“I may not be the best cook, but I’ll learn. I usually have someone cook for me. It will be a huge adjustment doing my own laundry and making my own bed and cooking for myself. We’ll see how it goes.”
The biggest adjustment, however, will take place on the ice. Morrow will be playing hockey at a higher level against bigger, faster, stronger players in the AHL. The Penguins coaching staff expects Morrow to grow and improve his play over the course of the season.
“It’s really just developing his overall game, becoming a better defender, understanding the defensive reads and certain things like that,” Hynes said. “Offensively, it’s more timing. The time to do the right things and make the right plays at the right times.”
“I’m trying to prove myself to these coaches (in WBS),” Morrow said. “I have to show these guys that I’m capable of playing in this league, too, and that I can contribute to this team as well.”