The callup of 2011 first round pick Joe Morrow is more of situation arising (injuries) of the Penguins wanting to get one of their top prospects some NHL experience of just being around the team (potential practice time, being involved in meetings) on a short-term stay, even if Morrow doesn’t step on the ice for a game. The callup doesn’t mean by any means that the Penguins feel Morrow is NHL ready, as he isn’t in his own end.
Overall, Morrow has not had a strong season in Wilkes Barre, his first professional season in the American Hockey League. Morrow’s been playing a third pairing role in Wilkes Barre and during the NHL lockout Morrow was regarded as being “exposed” defensively when better talent league wide was playing in the AHL due to the work stoppage.
Now that some of that talent is backup in the NHL, it’s not a surprise that Morrow’s play in his own end has been improving. He’s a plus-5 in his last nine games and the Penguins brass feel the defensive issues this season are very fixable as it takes defensemen longer to develop than forwards.
Offensively, Morrow has a terrific skill set, which has some believing he has star potential, but he hasn’t been much of a contributor in the AHL after scoring 64 points in 62 games last season for Portland Winterhawks of the WHL.
“He can skate, he’s big, and he’s a strong guy,” head coach Dan Bylsma said of Morrow this morning. Bylsma called Morrow’s heavy shot and skating ability “very high end”.
Bylsma said today that Morrow has been called up for “insurance” and due to “bumps and bruises” on the blueline. Paul Martin was the only defenseman who didn’t participate in the optional skate and and it’s normal for top players to skip those optional workouts on game days.
The belief, though, as of this morning is the Penguins hadn’t made a decision on today’s lineup. With no practice time with the big club, do we see Bylsma consider going with seven defensemen tonight vs New Jersey and use Morrow in certain situations like the power play and hide him in defensive situations?
“This game today, if Joe Morrow were to get into the game, you’re going to see some power play time, see some skating ability and see him being able to handle guys down low,” Bylsma said.
In what was a strength at the start of the season, the Penguins now suddenly lack NHL caliber defensive depth after their top-7 of Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen, Simon Despres, Deryk Engelland, and Robert Bortuzzo.
Dylan Reese has moved up to 8th on the organizational depth chart and he has filled in nicely in two games, but he’s a fringe NHLer who’s never seen consistent NHL time over a long period of time.
After Reese, there’s a ton of inexperience from the next four on the organizational depth chart:
Joe Morrow, 20 yrs old, 2011 first round pick – 0 NHL games
Brian Dumoulin, 21 yrs old, acquired from Carolina – 0 NHL games
Alex Grant, 24 yrs old, 2007 4th rd pick – 0 NHL games
Philip Samuelsson, 21 yrs old, 2009 2nd rd pick – 0 NHL games