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Pens' prospect Morrow provides insurance on defense

| Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, 8:27 p.m.
The Penguins' Robert Bortuzzo and the Devils' Ryan Carter fight in the first period at Consol Energy Center Sunday Feb. 10, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

Joe Morrow, the Penguins' top defensive prospect, is ticketed for prime time.

Sunday night, he was an insurance policy.

The Penguins promoted Morrow from their AHL affiliate because of “some bumps and bruises” to members of the defense corps, coach Dan Bylsma said Sunday.

“He's coming up for insurance,” Bylsma said of Morrow, who was the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Morrow, 20, is in his first professional season. He had recorded 10 points and registered a minus-4 rating in 39 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.

Dylan Reese, an Upper St. Clair native recalled from the AHL on Wednesday, said the last couple of weeks marked a turning point for Morrow.

Agreeing with that assessment, Penguins assistant general manager Jason Botterill said “whatever (Morrow) learns this year is an added bonus.”

“He's just getting used to the pace of pro hockey, the strength of players and understanding the system,” Botterill said. “He has some very impressive individual assets — his skating, his shot. He's just trying to figure out when to utilize it, when to jump up in the rush and when to stay more defensive.”

Morrow did not play Sunday night against the New Jersey Devils at Consol Energy Center. Also not in the Penguins' lineup were defensemen Kris Letang (undisclosed, lower body) and Matt Niskanen (ankle).

Letang, the club's top overall defenseman, missed a third consecutive contest. His official status is day-to-day, and he is on the injured-reserve list retroactive to last Tuesday.

Letang will be eligible to play Wednesday night at home against the Ottawa Senators, though that is unlikely because the Penguins will just have one off-day practice before that game.

Niskanen practiced with teammates Sunday morning but missed an eighth consecutive game.

The original prognosis for his recovery was between two and four weeks. Sunday marked two weeks since he was injured while sliding into the end boards during a Penguins' win at Ottawa on Jan. 27.

“I'm able to do more and more things on the ice every day,” Niskanen said. “I'd like to believe I'm close … but I still have a few more steps to take.”

The Penguins' defense pairings against the Devils were: Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin; Deryk Engelland and Robert Bortuzzo; and Reese and Simon Despres. Only Orpik, Martin and Engelland were regulars for the Penguins last season.

Despres had averaged just over 16 minutes the previous three games. Bortuzzo, also seeing regular duty for the first time, was at 14:40 in average ice time over the same span.

“It's a combination of the coaching, the system they play (at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton), and the guys in the room here make rookies feel pretty comfortable,” Orpik said of reasons for relatively smooth transitions of Despres and Bortuzzo.

“On other teams, you hear rookies are kind of given a hard time or secluded a little bit, and that's starting to get pushed out of the league a little bit. You realize (with) some of these younger guys how important they can be to your team. Making those guys feel comfortable off the ice has a big translation to how they perform on the ice.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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