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Penguins prospect Morrow a work in progress

| Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, 7:00 p.m.

When his 10th week as a professional hockey player dawned last Monday morning, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defenseman Joe Morrow thought he was turning a corner.

He was coming off two solid outings, recording an assist and a plus-1 rating in back-to-back games the weekend before.

“I feel like I'm playing against my level of players now, rather than playing against men and kind of being a boy,” Morrow said.

Simon Despres and Brian Strait were out with minor injuries, so Morrow was preparing to play with Robert Bortuzzo on one of the team's top two defense pairs.

The training wheels were coming off.

“Not just because of the (injuries),” coach John Hynes said. “It's really the fact that he's earned it, and he's at the point in his development where he needs to take the next step as far as minutes played and the types of situations he needs to play in.”

As is often the case when training wheels come off, a crash soon followed.

Morrow was a minus-4 in the first 30 minutes of a 6-3 loss to the Albany Devils on Wednesday night.

Hynes said he didn't fault Morrow individually­ ­— the Baby Pens played poorly as a team — but the game was emblematic of where Morrow stands.

He still has some developing to do, which is not unusual for young defensemen.

Rob Scuderi spent more than 300 games in the AHL before graduating. Brooks Orpik did a 150-game apprenticeship. Even Kris Letang had a 10-game Wilkes-Barre boot camp under former coach Todd Richards.

Add the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Morrow to that list.

His play in the offensive zone is already close to NHL-caliber. The brilliant skating, predatory offensive instincts and big shot that got him picked in the first round of the 2011 draft are still there.

Coming into this weekend, he had a goal and four assists in 17 games, respectable numbers for a defenseman who turned 20 last Sunday and hasn't seen a ton of power-play time.

“The offensive side of things always came naturally for me,” Morrow said.

In the defensive zone, there are plenty of areas to shore up.

“How to use his stick. Taking away ice when he's playing in one-on-one situations. Defensive habits and certain things he needs to learn down low that are just small little details that will help his game,” Hynes said.

Morrow has received plenty of individual instruction in those areas in recent weeks, several times staying on the ice after practice to work with Hynes, Baby Pens assistant Alain Nasreddine and Penguins assistant Todd Reirden.

He's also been a healthy scratch six times while his defensive game gets a makeover.

“They weren't impressed with how I was doing things before,” Morrow said. “They addressed it. I tried to get better, but I wasn't getting better quick enough. I wasn't progressing at the rate they wanted.

“So I really appreciate them taking more time and showing interest in me and putting in that effort.”

Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999. He can be reached via email at jbombulie@aol.com.

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