Stars hope Joe Morrow is latest find at blue line
Back in March 2011, the Dallas Stars signed a player few outside of the organization or those who don't closely follow the Western Hockey League (WHL) knew much about in a young defenseman named Brenden Dillon. The big, young blueliner had spent four seasons skating with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL and Stars brass saw much to like in the 6-foot-2 defenseman for his size, physicality and all-around presence in the back.
And Dillon's ascent in the Stars' organization has been a rapid one. He spent the tail end of the 2010-11 campaign with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League and returned to Cedar Park for the bulk of last season before making his NHL debut late last year as the big club was out of playoff contention.
He then returned to the AHL during the NHL lockout, but once the league and players reached an agreement, he was in camp with the Stars. And as local hockey fans know, the big, young defenseman hasn't looked back. He has been a true revelation at the Dallas blueline, quickly becoming a fan favorite for his big hits, strong physical play and all-around defensive presence as one-half of the team's top defensive pair alongside veteran Stephane Robidas.
Well, when the Stars traded captain Brenden Morrow to the Penguins on Sunday with a third-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft for defenseman Joseph Morrow and a fifth-round pick in this year's draft, they added another d-man with an impressive WHL pedigree to the organization.
Morrow, 20, had spent four seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the AHL before the Pens drafted him 23rd overall in the 2011 NHL Draft. The Edmonton native would spend one more season in the WHL before making his AHL debut this year with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. And in 57 games with Pittsburgh's top minor league affiliate, he had 15 points (4-11-15) and was minus-7.
Of course, it wasn't the start to his professional that most who have tracked his progress have expected, especially since he was the 23rd pick in the 2011 draft, but he has been skating long enough to know that it's not how one starts a season, it's how you finish and he appears to be well on his way to finishing his season in truly impressive fashion.
"Yeah, it's been up and down for me definitely. The first half of the season wasn't what I pictured it to be. It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be and I had to adjust pretty quickly," Morrow admitted from the press box of Monday's Stars game with the Wild. "But after that halfway point, something clicked and I figured it out. The confidence came along with that along with many other things in the d-zone. I felt comfortable and I hope it steadily progresses still."
On Tuesday, he was sent to the AHL along with Stars winger Reilly Smith. Morrow chipped in two assists for his new club in a 7-6 win over the Houston Aeros at Toyota Center. But even before seeing his newest player make his organizational debut with the Texas Stars, Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk couldn't help but gush about the player he acquired for the Stars' former captain, who incidentally Joe Morrow is not related to.
"He plays at a real high level. He's a dynamic skater and he has a real shot. He ran a power play with Portland (WHL), so he has that capability," Nieuwendyk said. "I think with a first year pro there is always an adjustment and a learning curve and he's going through that with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL), not putting up the numbers he did in his last year in Portland. He plays a real quick game, he defends well. He's not a punishing guy, but he's a real good puck transporter. He's a solid player, over 200 pounds. He's just an all-around player that can move with the puck."
So, when can Stars fans expect to see Joe Morrow in Dallas? Well, that remains to be seen. But if there is an opening at the blue line due to injury and/or a dip in the level of performance, then it wouldn't be a surprise to see him called up from the AHL and possibly make his NHL debut as soon as late this season.
Then again, the Stars could instead choose to leave him in Cedar Park for the rest of the year, let him get accustomed to the organization and how they like to do things, which would set him up to make his NHL debut next season and possibly deliver results similar to those of the young Mr. Dillon.