Play of rookie Morrow dazzling to Penguins
It was eight hours before Joe Morrow's first brush with an NHL game, and the young defenseman — the Penguins' 2011 first-round draft pick — pondered the possibility of finding himself on the ice against Detroit superstar Pavel Datsyuk.
A typical 18-year-old would fear the possibility of embarrassment at the hands of Datsyuk, and for good reason.
Morrow is no typical 18-year-old.
"You know," Morrow thoughtfully said that morning, "I hope I do end up out there against him. That would be great."
Oh, it was great. Morrow's performance, that is.
Other than Evgeni Malkin's sublime return to game action against the Red Wings, postgame chatter largely focused on Morrow. He couldn't have made a better first impression.
Morrow set up Matt Niskanen's power-play goal, showcased a special set of wheels and dissected Detroit's defense with a lead pass to Arron Asham that had some of the Penguins talking many days later.
"It was a heck of a pass," Asham said. "I was hoping he'd get it to me. I'm not sure how he did."
Morrow followed his performance against Detroit by scoring a power play goal against Minnesota in a game that saw the defense excel at both ends of the rink.
By the time exhibition games rolled around, Morrow was no longer surprising his new teammates. After all, it was immediately clear that Morrow is in possession of exceptional physical gifts.
"He's the biggest surprise in camp," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "No one knew him coming into the camp. He's surprised everyone. He just has so much poise. He doesn't play hockey like he's 18."
Morrow's skating has been particularly impressive. He mixes power with agility and has a strong feel for the offensive game.
That he's only 18 indicates that Morrow is just scratching the surface of his potential.
"He's a natural skater, and he's only going to get much better," said defenseman Paul Martin, himself one of the NHL's best skaters.
"I like watching him. It's pretty impressive. You don't see a lot of that these days."
Morrow, of course, won't be playing for the Penguins this season. He isn't ready for the NHL just yet, and given that the Penguins are already blessed with an abundance of NHL-caliber defensemen, rushing prospects such as Morrow and Simon Despres to the NHL never crossed management's mind.
Still, Morrow's performance in training camp — especially his otherworldly skating ability — has grabbed coach Dan Bylsma's attention.
"The longer he can stick around and be in more games," Bylsma said, "the more we can see from him and the more he can show what our scouts saw in him and why we drafted him in the first round."
Morrow, however, appears beyond the point of having to display why he was selected in the first round. Ask a few of his teammates, and it becomes evident that a strong belief exists among the Penguins the Morrow has a chance to become a star.
"You can just see the talent that the kid has," Michalek said. "The skating — wow. The way he handles the puck. He's very good, and he's only going to get better."
Morrow knows he isn't sticking around but is enjoying his introduction to the NHL.
"It's been great," he said. "I've learned a lot, and I think I've done well."
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, following Morrow's debut, smiled and pumped his fist while looking at the 18-year-old, imagining the day when they'll play together. Morrow did indeed end up against Datsyuk on numerous shifts and hardly looked out of place.
"He's good," Fleury said with a smile. "That's good for me."