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What Do the Dallas Stars Have in Joe Morrow?

Jeff Angus takes a deeper look into the scouting reports on new Stars defensive prospect Joe Morrow, and talks to someone who covered Morrow for WBS about his time in the AHL so far.


Joe Morrow is a very talented young defenseman. He isn't without his weaknesses, but Joe Nieuwendyk did a great job to receive a very good prospect in exchange for Brenden Morrow. This has the potential to be a win-win trade, depending on how far the Penguins advance in the postseason, and how Joe Morrow develops over the next few years.

Not only will Morrow provide leadership and some scoring depth for the Penguins, but the move will bolster Dallas' reputation around the league. Teams that aren't contending don't have to move their veterans for young players, but the Stars are giving Morrow a shot at winning a Stanley Cup, and that kind of thing is looked upon favorably by players around the league.

I saw Joe Morrow play a bit during his WHL days with the dominant Portland Winterhawks. He played on teams that featured the likes of Ryan Johansen (Columbus), Nino Niederreiter (New York Islanders), and Sven Bartschi (Calgary). He was a slick puck mover at that level, and he is currently playing his first season of pro hockey in the AHL. Morrow is known for his skating and offense, but he isn't afraid to play physical hockey, and he has good size for a defenseman, too. And he has an absolute bomb from the point.

Here is some information on Morrow from a pre-draft scouting report:

A two-way, puck-moving defenseman, Morrow's biggest strengths are his tremendous skating, his passing skills and his shooting ability. The Sherwood Park, AB, product boasts terrific speed and agility that help him carry the puck out of the defensive zone and join the offensive rush. An offensively gifted rearguard, Morrow's hockey sense and vision enable him to make good first passes and move the puck effectively in the offensive zone. Morrow also possesses a heavy and deceptive shot that makes him a threat to score or create scoring chances for his teammates from rebounds.

Morrow's offensive abilities make him a particularly effective anchor on the power play. As good as he is offensively, Morrow is also a solid player in the defensive zone who uses his strength and mobility to push opposing forwards off the puck.

"Joe Morrow is a powerful kid," said Winterhawks' head coach and general manager Mike Johnston. "He's a really good skater when he brings the puck up ice, he's got a heavy shot from the point, and he's really strong down low in the defensive zone.

To find out more about Morrow's play in Wilkes-Barrie, I asked Mike Colligan a few questions. Mike is a Pittsburgh native who covers the team for The Hockey Writers. He's a really knowledgeable guy, especially about matters pertaining to the Penguins.

Angus: Is Joe Morrow close to being NHL ready?

Not quite. Morrow shocked everyone with his play during his first training camp two years ago. He was the final cut that year and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was raving about his skill set. After a final season of junior hockey he made the jump to Wilkes-Barre (AHL) this year, but the transition has been tough.

What attributes does he need to work on or improve on before he makes the jump?

Morrow has all the tools to be a very good defenseman in the NHL. I would project him as a potential second-pair defenseman with the ability to run a powerplay -- along the same lines as Alex Goligoski. Great skater and has a big shot. When it comes his play in the defensive zone, the Penguins have almost had to start from scratch. During the lockout he had trouble cracking the lineup in the AHL and I think his confidence was shattered as a result.

Instead of playing the free-wheeling style that allowed him to excel in Portland (WHL), he was over thinking and second-guessing every decision. Morrow has the tools, but he'll need time to become less of a liability in his own end.

(Sounds a bit like Goligoski during his struggles this season.)

Is this trade indicative on how Morrow was valued relative to other Pens prospects?

I think so, but maybe not for the reason you think. The Penguins have the deepest pool of defensive prospects in the league right now and should have a steady flow of developing players moving up to the NHL over the next few seasons. Simon Despres just worked his way onto the Pens roster and has incredible upside. I think at one point the team saw Morrow as next in line.

Perhaps his issues in the defensive zone made the team realize that he'll need more time for development. That puts him along the same timeline as more recent first-round picks Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot. The Penguins also acquired Boston College standout defenseman Brian Dumoulin in the summer. There isn't room for all of those players to make the NHL roster in Pittsburgh some day so it came down to who could fetch the highest return. I don't think they view Morrow as significantly worse than their other prospects, but they also didn't need to spend the extra time to find out what his upside is.

Does Niskanen's development have anything to do with this move?

Not particularly, but it's been interesting to watch Niskanen's development over the last two years. He's a perfect example of the defenseman with a shattered confidence. He came to Pittsburgh at a low point in his career and didn't know how to handle the trade for the first few months. He finally adjusted to his new team and month by month he's turned himself into a very solid number four defenseman.

I think the Stars would be wise to learn from the Niskanen situation when it comes to Joe Morrow. It's easy to hide weaknesses alongside a guy like Sergei Zubov but those problems get exposed when the defensive partner suddenly becomes Darryl Sydor. It's a lot easier to be an underdeveloped forward in the NHL where your mistakes don't lead to goals in the back of the net.

Morrow has impressive tools for a 20-year-old, but he'll need time. Unless the Penguins win the Stanley Cup, the Stars will eventually come out on top in this trade.

Thanks Mike.

You can listen to Penguins GM Ray Shero discuss the trade in greater detail here.

I try to work in the word "transition" at least once in my DefendingBigD columns. Dallas is a team in transition right now. Some veterans will be traded away (the Stars are far from done), while others will be kept (Jaromir Jagr is a player the team wants to re-sign). The key, at this point in time, is about asset maximization. The Stars did move down two rounds (from the 3rd to the 5th) with this trade, but Morrow is a great prospect and they did a great job maximizing value in this trade. Brenden Morrow's reputation around the league far outweighs his actual on-ice effectiveness at this stage of his career.

However, he played his best hockey earlier this season when skating on a line with Jamie Benn and Jagr. And I'd expect him to put up good numbers alongside James Neal and Evgeni Malkin. But his best days as a Star were in the past, and there weren't really any non-sentimental reasons for the team to hold on to him.

I wrote last week on four things that Nieuwendyk needs to do over the next few months, and he got a great start on them with this trade.

And I'll end this post with my favorite Morrow memory from one of the best games he ever played as a Star:

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