Josh Morrissey Matures with the Manitoba Moose

It’s often said that forwards are both easier to project and quicker to mature than defensemen, and Josh Morrissey is a prime example of that old adage.

Morrissey, the former 13th overall pick in the 2013 draft, has taken the longer route to the NHL, but when he arrives it’s hoped among fans of the Winnipeg Jets that the long road will have left a mark of maturity on the young defender. Expectations on Morrissey were high at the start of the season, both from Jets fans and from himself,  and Morrissey may have faltered somewhat in the early going under the sheer weight of them. He was cut from the Jets surprisingly early, and was disappointing (both offensively and in terms of his overall play) for the Manitoba Moose in the early going.

Fortunately this early stumbling block appears to have been no more than a blip on the radar, something most fans won’t even remember when Morrissey’s very promising career eventually takes off. Watching Morrissey play for the Moose now as opposed to watching him play at the start of the year is a study in contrast. The Morrissey of the early going was tentative, too slow with his passes and his feet alike, and looked just a bit depressed that he hadn’t made the Jets. In short, he looked like a player having been cut for the first time in his life, even though he said all the right things.

The Josh Morrissey of the last few games puts the early season version to shame. This Josh Morrissey can quarterback a power play, just like advertised. This Josh Morrissey is starting to flash the awesome offensive instincts from his junior days. This is the Josh Morrissey that was so stellar at the World Juniors last winter, the one team Canada so sorely missed this season.

And, perhaps surprisingly for those unfamiliar with Morrissey in his junior days, this Morrissey can hit. Hard. Indeed the hits he throws now, so similar to the ones he was throwing in his junior days, invoke shades of Niklas Kronwall.

Lest you think this is an isolated incident from the man TSN’s Craig Button once described as the next Kronwall, Morrissey has been at this a lot lately. There were some concerns over whether the big open ice hits from his junior days would translate to the pros, where everyone is bigger and faster, but Morrissey is starting to lay those concerns to rest. This wasn’t the first big hit he’s thrown this week.

The Maturation Process

Josh Morrissey might not be close to the NHL. He might not even be the first player called up from the Moose in the event of an injury (that honour may fall to Julian Melchiori, who has been solid in several capacities for Manitoba and is a long-serving AHL foot-soldier). Yet with him the progress is the most promising. He’s still only 20 years old, which is young indeed for a defender. With defensemen like Aaron Ekblad, recently traded Seth Jones, and the Jets’ own Jacob Trouba contributing big minutes at the highest level of hockey, it’s easy to forget that most defensemen take years of maturation to become even serviceable at the NHL level. Morrissey’s peak may be years away.

Morrissey’s offensive prowess is starting to emerge, however, and for a Jets team that may be faced with the loss of Dustin Byfuglien (and another defender in Toby Enstrom that is passing his prime) it’s hugely important for the Jets to know they have some kind of security at the position. Morrissey’s maturation might make it easier for Kevin Cheveldayoff to make what will no doubt be a very difficult choice.

When the Jets drafted Josh Morrissey in 2013 it was considered an off the board pick by many, well ahead of his projected draft slot. A year later, when he was being considered for WHL defenseman of the year and coming off an astounding 28-goal 73-point season, the pick seemed less outlandish. When he was an anchor on the Gold Medal winning Team Canada at the World Juniors in 2015, it seemed less outlandish still.

With Max Domi, drafted immediately before him, already doing damage in the NHL for Arizona, it would be easy to dismiss Morrissey as lagging behind his fellow draftees. Consider, however, that many players projected around the same slot have yet to crack an NHL lineup as well. Anthony Mantha and Hunter Shinkaruk come to mind. Morrissey’s development is typical of a defenseman, exceptions like Ekblad and Trouba aside, and if the Jets and their fans can continue to be patient with him, the payoff could be huge.

Imagine Josh Morrissey turning into the next Niklas Kronwall for the Winnipeg Jets. It might not be as crazy as you think.