For the Dallas Stars, one player who fits that description recently, having significantly stepped up his level of play, is recently-acquired center Brendan Morrison.
Morrison, who has been scorching hot lately after scoring four points in the last two games, including two goals in Tuesday night’s 3-2 victory in Los Angeles, has gradually been adjusting to his new environment, on and off the ice.
After somewhat of a slow start after Dallas claimed him off waivers from Anaheim on March 4, Morrison has put together some impressive performances to become a valuable member of the club. And while the Stars have struggled over that span, winning for just the fourth time Tuesday night since he joined the squad (4-7-3), Morrison has filled in wherever needed, which has changed almost every night.
“It’s nice to get a win, it’s been a frustrating couple weeks,” Morrison said after netting his second game-winning goal for the Stars. “It’s been tough for me personally this year and I feel like I still have a ways to go, to where I can contribute on a nightly basis like this. I just want to have a good finish, show a lot of pride and work hard.”
With his recent offensive outburt, Morrison has collected six goals and nine points over his last 10 games. It’s been a nice stretch for the 33-year-old University of Michigan product, especially after taking a few games to get used to his new surroundings.
“As far as transitioning to a new team, it’s been good,” said Morrison, who has 16 goals and 31 points in 76 games overall this season. “The guys have been awesome, the staff have been great. Obviously, the results haven’t been there in the games and that’s been frustrating, but as far as an organization, it’s been first-class.”
“He’s been all right,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said of Morrison. “We’ve kind of used him as a utility player, he’s played both sides of special teams, he’s played center, he’s played both wing positions. So with the injury situation, he’s been a good complement player. He’s got skill, he’s got vision on the ice. He’s not anybody you’re going to rely on for a physical presence but he uses his intelligence well and that’s why he can play in all these situations.”
It’s good to hear Tippett speak that way now, because after just three games in a Stars’ uniform, the coach singled out Morrison, along with veteran center Mike Modano, as being players that needed to contribute more.
While some observers may have considered it unusual for the coach to call out a player still adjusting to a new system and new teammates so soon, Morrison, to his credit, responded positively and began to perform better.
“Well, I guess a lot was made of it, I really didn’t read into it too much,” shrugged Morrison, who skated seven-plus years in Vancouver before signing a one-year deal with the Ducks as a free agent last summer. “It’s just the urgency of the situation. There really wasn’t a lot of time for an adjustment period, it’s like, coming in you got to do it now, we don’t have time to wait - that was the message.”
“We just needed him to jump into our group as quick as possible, time is of the essence for us,” Tippett said. “He’s come in and contributed. It’s hard when you make an adjustment like that, but we just didn’t have time to wait around and say, ‘The adjustments will come in time.’ Our time was crucial, so he’s recognized that, he’s jumped in and trying to help out wherever he can.”
That has been many places. Morrison has bounced around the forward lines, joining several different combinations, including a few with Modano. For several games, Morrison skated at right wing 5-on-5 on a line with gritty defensive center Steve Begin and speedy sparkplug Chris Conner. Against Phoenix Monday, that was the Stars’ most effective unit, but then he was put with sniper Loui Eriksson
and rookie Tom Wandell
“He’s a quick guy out there, he’s a good skater, and a lot of teams know this and it takes a lot of checking attention away (from other offensive players),” said Eriksson, who leads the club with 34 goals. “He’s a good player.”
Also filling key roles both on the power play unit and while penalty killing, Morrison has had to quickly learn the various abilities and tendencies of his new teammates.
“Just getting a little consistency with guys,” Morrison said, identifying one of the tougher parts of the transition. “I’ve been kind of jumping all over here a bit, but at this time of the season, that’s what you have to do when you’re trying to make a push or when you’ve got injuries, etcetera. Just going out and trying to be a difference, really, is the biggest thing. The guys have been great in the room.”
“Those things take time, to stop treating it like a grenade and let his talent ooze out of him and we’ve seen signs of it most recently,” noted goaltender Marty Turco, who knows Morrison well, having won an NCAA national championship with him back in 1996 at Michigan. “I think he’s adapted really well. We’ve seen him play center, point on the power play, wing and he’s done it all pretty good.”
Overall, the 5-foot-11, 181-pound Morrison’s average ice time of 15:41 per game since coming to Dallas has demonstrated how much the club has relied upon him. It is a major increase over the 13:51 he got in 62 games in Anaheim before his acquisition.
As his adjustment on the ice has become easier lately, the transition has been a little less smooth for Morrison off the ice. Since he changed addresses, Morrison’s wife Erin and four children have remained behind in California. And even though he has some relatives in town with his brother-in-law, Stars broadcaster Daryl Reaugh (their wives are sisters), Morrison still misses his immediate family.
“That’s been an adjustment for me,” Morrison admitted. “I got four kids, so not having them there every day and having that constant support and buzz in the background all day. I’m kind of sitting here feeling guilty in a way, my poor wife back home. We obviously talk every day, we do iChat on the computer and that. They’ll be coming down here in (a few days), so that will be good.”
While Morrison is set to become an unrestricted free agent again come July 1, at least one person is eager to see him sign a new deal to stay in Dallas.
“I’d love to see him here for longer, get integrated with the system and the guys and everybody moreso,” Turco said. “He’s just that kind of person and player. The more comfortable he’ll get, the better he’ll be and the confidence will rise. Hopefully, it’ll happen, but in the meantime, we need him right now.”
As Morrison, who won the 1997 Hobey Baker Award at Michigan as college hockey’s best player (hockey’s equivalent of the Heisman), feels more and more comfortable with his new team - and vital to their fortunes - he just wishes things were going a bit better for the Stars in the standings, where they sit in 12th place in the Western Conference, six points back of the eighth and final playoff spot.
“It’s really irrelevant,” the team-first native of Pitt Meadows, BC said of his improved play of late. “It’s about winning and losing and right now, we’re taking ourselves right out of the race with our losses That’s disappointing but we can’t hang our heads. Who knows what can happen? We just have to approach the next game like it’s the last game of the year and we have to win that game.”
With five games left in the regular season, there’s no doubt Morrison will be playing an important role in trying to do just that.