Image courtesy of Asvitt Photography from the Stockton Heat
Despite the fact that the Stockton Heat had a largely unimpressive season this past year, one of the undeniable strengths of their team was their defence. An often forgotten part of this unit was Kenney Morrison, a much-heralded, undrafted college free agent signed last March while the Flames were in the heart of a … playo—it hurts too much to type the rest.
Let’s find out how Morrison’s first professional season went after the jump.
Courtesy Asvitt Photography
There was a lot of excitement surrounding Kenney Morrison when the Flames signed the undrafted free agent from Western Michigan University. The 6’2, right-handed defender was heralded as a skilled puck-mover with some offensive upside and began his AHL career last season with a brief stay in Adirondack. During that time, Morrison scored six points in 10 games and looked to be on the verge of a promising professional career.
However, to start this season, Kenney Morrison looked as though he might be in danger of slipping completely through the cracks of the Stockton Heat. A largely unremarkable training camp saw Morrison returned to Stockton without really getting a long preseason look. Once he arrived in Stockton, it was difficult for Morrison to get regular ice time early in the season.
Throughout last season, Stockton’s strength was defence. Anchored by a top pairing of Tyler Wotherspoon and Jakub Nakladal, the Heat also got strong performances from Brett Kulak (who actually made the opening night NHL roster due to injury), team captain Aaron Johnson (who only played 28 games this season), and minor-league veteran Dustin Stevenson, which didn’t always leave a lot of minutes for Oliver Kylington, Kenney Morrison, or Ryan Culkin.
In fact, earlier this season I openly wondered if Morrison would have been better suited by playing in the ECHL to start the year, like Ryan Culkin, who went to Adirondack after he recovered from a shoulder injury. However, call-ups and injuries allowed Morrison to get some ice time and when given the opportunity he modestly impressed.
When asked which Heat player benefited the most from increased playing time later in the season, here’s what Stockton’s play-by-play announcer and one-man media machine Brandon Kisker had to say:
I think the easy person to point to was Kenney Morrison. It was hard for him to get any rhythm going in the first part of the season, playing 11 of the first 26 games. However when injuries and call-ups happened, Coach Huska had to play him and while there were some growing pains, I think he really responded well and I thought got a lot better in the last handful of months.
The numbers didn’t exactly jump off the page this season: three goals, 10 assists in 44 games for Stockton. In Darren Haynes’ interview with Stockton head coach Ryan Huska, the two discussed some of the setbacks that Morrison experienced this year:
“It was probably a frustrating season for him, for sure,” says Huska. “He got off to a slower start this year starting in Penticton and it took him a fairly lengthy period of time before he gained some of his confidence back and I think that’s why we saw a lot of inconsistencies with him.”
“He’s got a lot of tools, he’s what everybody looks for and now it’s up to him to maybe be a little more assertive and demand more ice time,” says Huska. “That really was our message to him is that he needs to have a great summer of work and come back assertive and confident in his ability to be a go-to dynamic guy for us.”
Huska knows he has it in him.
“There were stretches towards the end of the year where we felt his game was really starting to come along.”
IMPACT ON TEAM
Okay, so we know Morrison can shoot the puck kinda hard, if only from the anecdotal evidence supplied in the above video. In fact, when the Flames signed Morrison, many people pointed out that it was his shot that set him apart among his NCAA peers. With a shot like that, it’s a wonder that Morrison wasn’t able to score a few more goals this season in Stockton. In any event, let’s get into how his season was relative to other Stockton defenders.
Among Heat defencemen, Morrison ranked pretty well in generating shots on net and not too poorly in terms of points-per-game. However, it wasn’t exactly a murderers row in terms of offense this season in Stockton and these numbers don’t exactly project anyone as surefire NHLers. It is important to note that Morrison is the second oldest defender on this list next to old man Nakladal; Kylington is a staggering five years younger than Morrison and put up comparable numbers.
This isn’t as big of a slight to Morrison as it is a compliment to Kylington but both were playing their first professional season this year. I think it’s fair to say that Flames management has a lot to be excited about in Kylington, that’s for sure.
All in all, Morrison is going to have to be a go-to defender in Stockton next season in order to be one of the first call-ups, and that’s going to be a tall order. Morrison is entering the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent at the end of next season. In many ways, this is a make or break year for Morrison with the Flames organization.
Morrison turns 25 next season and will have to separate himself from the younger competition in Stockton.Given what coach Huska said about his play late in the season, if Morrison has a good camp there’s a good shot that he’ll be a major piece of Stockton’s defence next season.
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