By Scott Billeck
The Winnipeg Jets believe that Joshua Morrissey is a future cornerstone of the franchise, and like it or not Jets fans, you’re going to have to get used to it.
The Prince Albert Raiders star defenseman has been written off in recent days, mostly due to the fact that he was taken off the board by as many as 13 from where he was rated. The question is: Is that an accurate assessment?
The selection of Morrissey caused quite an Internet stir for Jets fans, especially on Twitter. However, does it really make any difference at all what fans think? Craig Button, a former NHL General Manager and current NHL Network Analyst weighed in for us on the subject of size, draft boards, pre-draft analysis and the unscientific projection of size and talent for 18-year-old hockey players.
“Off whose board?” says Button, referring to the likes of TSN’s Bob McKenzie and even Button’s own draft rankings. “The only board that matters is the Winnipeg Jets board, so whose board is he off of?”
This isn’t the first time Jets fans have been all over GM Kevin Cheveldayoff at the draft.
When Mark Chipman and True North Sports and Entertainment brought the Atlanta Thrashers franchise to Winnipeg back in 2011, a similar situation unfolded at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. The Jets selected another “off-the-board” pick in Mark Scheifele, a talented centerman out of the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. But again, because he was off the board, Jets fans were quick to dismiss his upside.
After seeing Scheifele play under the tutelage of Jets legend and Hockey Hall of Famer, Dale Hawerchuk, and watching him guide his team during the most recent OHL playoffs, Jets fans were quick to recant their previously held opinions on what could be a future Jets centerpiece.
So now that the hoopla — and criticism — has died down, it’s time to look at Mr. Morrissey for what he really is – a skilled offensive defenseman.
“Joshua Morrissey is an outstanding skater in every single regard,” said Button. “Joshua Morrissey has outstanding hands, he’s got an outstanding head, and he’s a big time competitor. “
In his second full year with the Raiders, Morrissey led his team to a winning record for the first time since the 2003-04 campaign. P.A. made the playoffs on the back of his strong defensive play, going plus-14 over 70 games. His offensive instincts were showcased as well, scoring 15 times and adding 32 assists. Did I mention that the kid is gritty too? Morrissey racked up 91 penalties in minutes over the course of a year in which he led the Raiders team in scoring.
He represented Team Canada at this past year’s Under-18 World Championship as well, playing on a gold-medal winner. He scored six points in four games, including two goals and was a plus-seven in the round robin portion of the tournament. Morrissey led the tournament in plus-minus and was second among defenseman in scoring.
“You look at what he did at key events against the world’s best players – the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, the Under-18 tournament, the WHL – in the WHL, go look at his numbers on a team that wasn’t very good,” Button added.
The one knock against him is his size. At 6-feet tall (according to some media guides), he isn’t exactly short. His weight at 185 (again according to some media guides) leaves a little to be desired sure, but with his frame, it wouldn’t be hard to put on some muscle – something that Morrissey is aware of and keen to work on.
Button has some strong words for naysayers of Morrissey’s size.
“If Josh Morrissey isn’t going to play in the NHL, then you better get rid of Tobias Enstrom right now if you’re a Winnipeg Jets fan,” he said. “Somebody better tell Nikolas Kronwall that you better get out of here. Somebody better tell Duncan Keith, who was 5-foot-11, 160 pounds, drafted in the second round and won a Norris trophy, someone better tell him he isn’t big enough and you better get out of here. Somebody better tell Scott Niedermeyer, who is going to go into the Hockey Hall of Fame next Tuesday, that he wasn’t big enough.
“The vast majority of mistakes in the NHL draft are made on size. Overestimating the big player and underestimating the small player.”
Morrissey himself follows the likes of Kris Letang of the Pittsburg Penguins and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, and while he may not model his game after the two, knowing that players of similar stature can be effective and successful at the pro level definitely helps a lot.
Morrissey’s character, his drive to compete, to win every puck battle will also serve him well with the Jets, says Prince Albert Raiders General Manager Bruno Campese.
“He’s a great kid, a great student of the game,” said Campese. “He’s a gamer, he only knows how to play the game one way, and that’s hard – he’s not afraid to take a hit, give a hit, and get involved.
“Trust me, size is not going to be an issue with this kid. He brings a lot to the table, he skates extremely well, is strong on his feet – enough to get away from things. But he is not afraid to jump into the fray and do what he needs to do.”
Campese would like to put to bed any negativity surrounding the Jets first round selection.
“I think people are going to be overly surprised in Winnipeg, the kid is a pretty smart hockey player,” he said.
“The Winnipeg Jets, they’re professional and they have professional scouts that are very good at what they do,” added Button. “I would suggest that fans are in a rush to judgment, at the end of the day, let’s watch, let’s wait, and let’s see where they are at in 18 months.”