May 29 2013 01:28PM
This year's draft is being lauded for the number of highly-skilled forwards in it. With names like MacKinnon, Drouin and Barkov being tossed again, it's easy to forget sometimes that there are also a lot of high-level defensive prospects available on June 30. Everyone knows about Seth Jones. A lot of people know about Darnell Nurse and his impressive lineage. But not a lot of people know about an excellent blueliner that's been honing his craft right in the Flames back yard.
That blueliner is Josh Morrissey of the Prince Albert Raiders.
THE SCOUTING REPORTS
I had the opportunity to watch Morrissey against the Hitmen. I came away impressed.
He's not an amazingly large human being, but he uses what size he has fairly well. He's got strong positioning and pretty good skating, and it was extremely labourous for the Hitmen forwards to zip around him, as he was able to keep up pretty well – both in terms of foot-speed and anticipating the play.
To be blunt, Morrissey ain't the kind of defender that you're going to notice a lot at even-strength. And that's a good thing. You notice defensemen if they're doing things wrong – being out of position, getting burnt on coverage, making bad passes or taking penalties – and Morrissey doesn't do those things. But he shines on the power-play. He's got an absolute laser-beam of a shot and it's accurate enough to snipe the top corner from just inside the blueline.
Other observers have said similar things about his game.
Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports:
The key to Morrissey’s games is his outstanding skating ability. He joins fellow WHL defence prospect Ryan Pulock as being amongst the best skating defencemen in this draft class. His stride is fluid, and he has excellent top speed both backwards and forward. His first step is quick, and he accelerates quickly helping him to reach that top speed in just a few steps. His agility, edgework, and pivots are very strong and fluid, giving him excellent mobility, and allowing him to cover a lot of ice, whether it be opening up passing and shooting lanes in the offensive zone, skating the puck out of his own zone and through neutral ice, or covering up defensively against the rush or the cycle.
Zenon Herasymiuk of Dobber Prospects:
Josh Morrissey is a gifted offensive defenseman with the ability to contribute offense on both the power play and in five-on-five situations. Morrissey is an unbelievable skater and also has the ability to throw some big open ice checks if the opportunity presents itself. In 35 games this year for the Prince Albert Raiders, Morrissey has compiled 25 points. He will have to continue to improve his defensive game as well as adding a bit of size to his frame to be successful at the next level. Morrissey will play for Team Cherry at the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Prospects Game in January.
Short version: Morrissey's strengths are high-end skating, offensive acumen and smarts. His weaknesses are size and physical strength which can limit his defensive effectiveness.
Rankings-wise, Morrissey's one of those players that has jumped all over the place depending where you look. TSN has him at 15, ISS has him at 21, Central Scouting has him at 27, Corey Proman ranks him 20th, Future Considerations has him at 16 and The Hockey Writers' January rankings have him at 9. As of April, the NHLNumbers consensus across various scouting sources had Morrissey at 14th.
Generally it seems that Seth Jones, Darnell Nurse and Nikita Zadorov will probably be chosen before Morrissey. And there's a chance that Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan Pulock will be al well, which means there's a significant chance the Flames would be able to grab him with either of the St. Louis or the Pittsburgh picks. That said, there's also a chance someone else really like him and Josh goes in the first half of the first round.
Morrissey was a workhorse and a leader for the Prince Albert Raiders this season, and his numbers reflect that. He posted 47 points in 70 games, with 15 goals. Five of those were on the power-play, but four of them were also game-winners. He was the team's leader in scoring from the back-end and had more goals than a lot of his team's forwards, finishing 6th overall in team scoring. The Raiders leading scoring was former first round pick Mark McNeil and he only managed 20 more points than Morrissey in the regular season.
Looking at his game-to-game season totals, a few patterns emerge...
For one, Morrissey is consistent. There weren't a lot of stretches where he went without a point. That's good. And generally, his plus/minus – typically a product of the entire team's play – reflects how the game went. Very rarely did Morrissey have a bad plus/minus and the team won. Most of the time, if he did well, the team did also (and the opposite).
I'm not sure if I should be nervous about his reliance on power-play production, though. Morrissey produced 24 points on the powerplay (5 goals, 19 assists or 40% of his output). That's pretty strong. But he only had 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) at even strength (47%), which means that potentially there's an alarming reliance on powerplay production. That means he's either a stout defensive defenseman at ES that only takes chances on the powerplay (which is what I saw in the viewing I had of him against Calgary), or he struggles to get the puck and produce against kids at the junior level. I lean towards the first explanation.
He's a defenseman and I don't think offensive production skewing towards any particular area is too concerning, but it's worth thinking about a bit. Usually defenders are far more reliant on special teams ice time and circumstances to produce, however, even at the NHL level. It's the nature of the position.
Ben Kerr compares Morrissey to Alex Edler, and I can see why. Morrissey's a good two-way defenseman at even-strength that comes alive offensively on the power-play. There are obviously a few wrinkles in his game, but he's shown a lot of promise on a middling WHL squad in Prince Albert.
He'll need to build some muscle onto his 190 pound frame to really excel at the next level, but Morrissey should be a good choice for a team picking in the latter parts of the first round. Considering the Flames have likely seen him quite a bit at the Saddledome over the past few years, they likely know what they'd be getting if they select him.
Although the Flames most glaring need is probably up front/down the middle, the organization's prospect depth chart is extremely thin when it comes to offensive/two-way blueliners after the graduation of TJ Brodie. Morrissey would instantly become the Flames best bet to become a point-producer from the back-end if they decide to pick him this June.
Flames First Round Targets
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