Morrow making most of return to top six

Brenden Morrow is a confident guy, but when you’re a captain in the National Hockey League like No. 10 has been for the Dallas Stars since he took over the “C” from franchise icon Mike Modano a number of years ago, confidence has to be one of your strong points.

A great example of Morrow’s confidence came during the Stars’ highly-abbreviated training camp. At that time, it looked like the veteran left winger was going to be slotted into skating on either Dallas’ third or fourth line, a big change for a guy who had been a fixture in the Stars’ top six for most if not all of his career.

But last year as Brenden battled through an injury-riddled season, after he returned then-Stars first-year head coach Glen Gulutzan experimented with his captain on the third line and while clearly not happy about dropping down, Morrow handled the entire experience like the true professional that he is.

And given that the Stars added such high-quality pieces as Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Ray Whitney during the offseason, three guys who were definite locks to be among the Dallas top six no matter how the rest of the group shook out, the writing was on the wall for Morrow. He would be on either the third or fourth line at least to start the year.

That’s where No. 10 spent his first eight games of the season, registering a total of two assists during that time frame. However, a funny thing happened in early February as the nagging foot injury that had clearly slowed Whitney got to the point where it needed surgery, putting the man known as the Wizard on the bench for approximately six weeks.

All of a sudden, Gulutzan needed someone to step up and play top-six minutes. Who better than Morrow? During camp and even before that, when the Stars players were skating on their own in Frisco awaiting the much-anticipated end of the NHL lockout, Morrow was adamant that he was going to do everything in his power to ensure he returned to the top six.

“I know what their expectations of me are and mine might be higher than theirs. But I’m not going to ruffle feathers,” Morrow said in early January. “I’m going to go out, compete, play hard and make it hard on Gully to not give me top six minutes. That’s my mindset. I know where they have me slated and I’m going to work hard to make it hard on them to keep me there.”

Of course, Stars fans know the 34-year-old veteran has done exactly that, made it hard for Gulutzan not to keep him in the top six. In eight games on Dallas’ top line in the wake of Whitney’s injury, he has definitely delivered with three goals, including two in a losing effort at Calgary on Wednesday night to go with two assists for a total of five points (3-2-5) in his six games skating on the top line alongside Jamie Benn and Jagr.

Morrow’s re-emergence on the No. 1 line has been a great story during the Stars’ recent winning streak, one that had reached four games but unfortunately came to a screeching halt on Wednesday night in Calgary. And there is the whole aspect of what changes Gulutzan might have to make once Whitney returns, which will be in March.

Once the Wizard does return, Gulutzan will definitely have at least one decision that could best be characterized as gut-wrenching to make. It looks like Morrow, Benn and Jagr have already developed some strong chemistry as a line even in a small sample size of eight games. But when Whitney returns, does Gully drop Morrow back down to the third or fourth line so that he can re-insert Whitney into the role he held before his injury on the second line, a shift which would possibly see Loui Eriksson take Morrow’s spot on the first line?

It’s tough to say because there are literally a lot of possibilities for the second-year head coach to ponder. But at least for now and until Whitney officially makes his return, which is still at least several weeks away, let’s enjoy what the captain is doing on the first line and the fact that even at age 34 and in a season some thought might very well be his last in Big D that he’s still producing and making quite the strong case that he still deserves to be a top-six player for the Stars. It has been an interesting story to watch unfold thus far and of course, it is still quite far from finished as Dallas is now only some 10 games away from the halfway point of this shortened 48-game campaign.