Penguins make addition to defensive depth
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Penguins made a surprising pick in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, and a local product was stunned that he became the highest-drafted Pittsburgh player ever.
With Pittsburgh native Brandon Saad still on the board, the Penguins on Friday night opted for a defenseman — the organization's greatest strength — by taking Western Hockey League standout Joe Morrow.
A slick offensive defenseman, Morrow produced nine goals and 40 assists while playing for Portland last season. He is from Sherwood Park, Alberta.
Earlier, the New York Rangers made J.T. Miller, a native of East Palestine, Ohio, who resides in Moon, the 15th pick.
The Morrow pick is surprising on the surface because the Penguins' blue line is loaded throughout the organization, and soon they will add their best prospect, defenseman Simon Despres, to the NHL roster. However, general manager Ray Shero foreshadowed the pick 24 hours earlier.
"I always want the best player," he said. "We had really good defensemen in Ryan Whitney and Alex Goligoski, and we turned them into valuable assets in trades. It always makes sense to get the best player, no matter who that may be. We will take a defenseman if we think that's the best player available."
It's interesting that Shero mentioned Whitney and Goligoski, because the scouting report on Morrow is similar to the former Penguins. Morrow is an offensive-minded defenseman and could project as a power-play quarterback. He possesses a hard shot and enjoys joining the rush. He is considered one of the draft's finest skaters.
Central Scouting ranked Morrow as the 12th-best North American skater, and many mock drafts had him going considerably earlier than 23rd.
"I had a small idea they were interested, but I didn't think it would happen," Morrow said.
Morrow sounded excited to be in the same organization as stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
"If I get a chance to break into the lineup in Pittsburgh," he said, "I'm looking to move the puck to all those great forwards."
Shero said Morrow was a player unlike any in the Penguins' system.
"We like the upside of Morrow," he said. "We like his skating. He can really shoot the puck. He has impact strength. He's a really strong player. Good two-way defenseman. We really don't have any of that in the organization -- a guy who can really bring the puck."
Saad went undrafted in Friday night's first round; the draft continues Saturday with the final six rounds.
"We like Brandon," Shero said. "We hope he does well, and it's great to see all the Pittsburgh kids here. But as we've seen over the past two years, defensemen are valuable. You can always trade a defenseman for a forward."
Miller edged Plum native R.J. Umberger, who was selected by Vancouver with the 16th pick in 2001, as the highest-drafted Pittsburgh product.
Miller only had one discussion with the Rangers before he was drafted and admitted that he didn't expect to hear his name so early in the evening.
"Yeah, you're not lying there," he said. "I was definitely a little shocked. But getting my name called was the best feeling in the world."
Joe Morrow at a glance
Selection: 23rd overall
Hometown: Sherwood Park, Alberta
Age: 18 (born Dec. 9, 1992)
Weight: 197 pounds
2010-11 stats: 9 goals, 49 points, 67 penalty minutes in 60 games with Portland of the Western Hockey League
Rankings: 12th in North America by NHL Central Scouting; 33rd overall by International Scouting Services; 36th overall by Red Line Report
Bio: Improved production by 18 points from previous regular season. ... Ranked second among defensemen with 20 points in 21 WHL playoff games. ... Strong hockey family ties: father, Dave, was drafted by Vancouver in 1977; brother, Josh, was selected by Nashville in 2002; and uncle, Darrell, played four seasons at University of Denver. ... Second defenseman selected in first round by general manager Ray Shero since he joined the Penguins in 2006.
Scouting report: Projected as a top-four defenseman at the NHL level. Morrow's strength is his skating. His stride is powerful. His shot could be a weapon from the point. His defensive game needs work; he is more offensive-minded from the back end.
Quote: "I definitely feel like my defense has gotten better. I'm not just an offensive player." -- Morrow