So What’s Next for Josh Morrissey?

Josh Morrissey is in a tough spot as Winnipeg Jets training camp looms. Then again, he might not get much sympathy in that Jets locker room, as most players entering the camp will be in a tough spot.

In an upcoming roster battle in which there seem to be no guarantees, Morrissey has the unenviable job of trying to crack the Jets opening night roster despite guaranteed contracts blocking the way in front of him. Whether Morrissey is ready for the NHL is still up in the air, but if he can’t play big minutes then it may be a moot point. In all likelihood, the Jets would rather he play big minutes in the AHL than sit in the press box in the NHL.

Morrissey made his NHL debut last season when injuries took their toll on the Jets blueline, and like all young players once he’s had a taste he’ll want to be back. No doubt he feels he can build off last season’s brief look.

Since Morrissey is a former first round pick, 13th overall in 2013, the thinking is he’ll get a shot sooner than later. Plenty of Jets fans would like to see some new blood on the left side too, as frustration with Mark Stuart reaches a fever pitch in some circles. Can Morrissey make his mark this season?

The Logjam

While it’s nowhere near as bad as it has been at times, the logjam on defense for the Jets is a serious obstacle to any young player looking to make the team out of camp. The Jets have a few defenders too many right now, which is better than having too few but not conducive to young players making the jump to the NHL.

It could be worse for Morrissey. He could be right handed. Just ask Jacob Trouba how much fun it’s been trying to get ice time with Tyler Myers and Dustin Byfuglien already eating it up. The left side is considerably weaker for the Jets, but two of the mainstays, Toby Enstrom and Stuart, have contracts too large for them to be constantly in the press box, even if Morrissey may be a better option.

Down the line, I fully expect Morrissey to replace Enstrom. Enstrom is coming off midseason knee surgery and isn’t getting any younger. Morrissey’s impressive career statistics indicate he has plenty of offense to bring, and he’s not shy about the physical game either.

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Some feared that given his modest size, his physical play — reminiscent of Niklas Kronwall — would deteriorate when he turned professional. At the start of the season the transition to the pros seemed to be weighing on him, but soon enough he got comfortable, and by the time Christmas came around he was a brand new man, both with the puck and, as Xavier Oullet found out the hard way, without it.

The Jets only added to the logjam when they signed Ben Strait away from the New York Islanders, so it will be all the tougher for him to be on the opening night roster because of that.

An Uphill, Winable Battle

Still, for all the obstacles he’ll have to overcome, I do believe Morrissey can make the Jets this year and, more importantly, make the Jets better this year. There’s always a near-lunatic level optimism on the part of observers where prospects are concerned, but Morrissey has shown signs of progress, and if he’s put in the work this offseason he could surprise people.

Morrissey is Enstrom’s younger, more talented but less steady self. He has the offensive prowess that seems to have abandoned Enstrom at this stage of his career, and he has the physicality that was never a big part of Enstrom’s game to begin with. Then again, maybe it’s not Enstrom he can oust. After all, if the Jets are transitioning to a younger, faster team (and their prospects will force them to do this whether they want to or not) it might be time to sit Stuart for a while in favor of a slicker puck mover. Such a player is Morrissey.

There’s no doubt in my mind the Jets are transitioning younger, and while that resulted in growing pains last year, by the end of the season the plan had begun to bear fruit. If Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine make the roster this season, the Jets will be coming at teams in waves, and those skilled forwards will need defenders who can get them the puck, and who can join them on the rush on occasion. Again, this describes Morrissey perfectly.

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Defensemen just about always take longer to mature than forwards, but Morrissey has spent the last three years maturing. Maybe it’s time to give him a chance, especially with the direction the team is taking. They’ll have to do it sooner or later. They might as well do it while he’s hungry.