PHILADELPHIA — It’s been relatively quiet in Jet-land since Paul Maurice was locked up and Kevin Cheveldayoff gave his season-ending state of the union.
I’ve been busy covering the first-round match-up between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers for the Sun Media chain, but earlier this week I caught up with St. John’s IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge and Jets’ 2013 first rounder Josh Morrissey to do a playoff preview.
If you missed it, that story can be found right here: http://www.winnipegsun.com/2014/04/23/st-johns-icecaps-aiming-for-long-calder-cup-playoff-run
I spoke at length with McCambridge on how the team is shaping up and about how some of the Jets’ top prospects have performed this season but I’ll save those comments for another post as this one will focus on Morrissey.
This was my first opportunity to speak with Morrissey since he appeared in the pre-season with the Jets and he’s encountered a lot of interesting things since then…
“Whirlwind is a pretty good word. It’s been a crazy year for me with world juniors and the draft and all of that,” Morrissey said from Providence, R.I., where the IceCaps were staying since closing out the AHL season on the road. “My first training camp, going back to junior, wearing the captain’s C (with the Prince Albert Raiders) and now having the chance to come up here is a pretty big event for me.
“I’ve had a busy year and a lot of hockey the last 12 months, but for me I think I’ve been able to grow a lot as a player. My game has really come along over the course of this year as well.”
The IceCaps series starts in Albany, N.J. tonight against the top affiliate of the New Jersey Devils but when I spoke with Morrissey, it was just a day after visiting Fenway Park for the first time for a game featuring the Red Sox and Yankees.
“That was kind of a cool thing, that’s for sure,” said Morrissey. “I asked the guys, is this what every AHL road trip is like? And they kind of laughed. It’s been pretty great. I came at the right time.”
The best time is yet to come for Morrissey, as these playoffs should serve as another important step in the process building toward training camp next September.
“I’ve been able to adjust and learn every day,” said Morrissey, who had an assist in eight AHL games since joining the IceCaps. “It’s been a great experience so far.”
How has he found the adjustment to the pro game?
“At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect coming up to pro,” said Morrissey, the 13th overall pick in 2013. “Obviously I spent time in Winnipeg during training camp and what-not, but coming in at the end of the season with a playoff team, I’ve been pretty fortunate. From what I’ve heard from a lot of guys, it’s one of the best groups of guys that is around.”
Morrissey has been paired mostly with Kris Fredheim, a former Vancouver Canucks draft pick, and also will be featured on one of the power-play units during the playoffs.
Playing an expanded role is always good for the confidence of a young player who is basically still getting his feet wet at this level. He knows the intensity is only going to be amped up as the IceCaps pursue what they hope is a long run.
“I’m just trying to come in here and help any way that I can,” said Morrissey. “It’s been great for me. When I came here, I wasn’t sure how that I’d be used, but at the same time I didn’t want to come in and disrupt everything that’s going on, with how well the team has been doing this year before I got here. Going forward, however they decide to use me, I’ll stay positive and go with it.
“It’s definitely given me a lot of confidence in the first eight games, having the chance to go in and play and not be used super sparingly or not in key situations. For the most part, I’m just trying to play my game and do what I’ve been doing in junior.”
What Morrissey did in junior this season was impressive, piling up 28 goals and 73 points in 59 games — well above the 15 goals and 47 points in 70 games he put up the year before he was chosen by the Jets. Those 28 goals established a PA Raiders franchise record and his overall play earned him a nomination for the Top Defenceman in the Western Hockey League (Morrissey is up against fellow first rounder Derrick Pouliot, a top prospect of the Pittsburgh Penguins).
As for the match-up itself, the Devils have a pair of Winnipeggers in their lineup in Kelly and Darcy Zajac, two of the three younger brothers of Travis.
Kelly was second on the Devils in scoring this season (behind Joe Whitney), putting up 12 goals and 44 points, while Darcy was hurt much of the year and managed one goal and six points in 19 games.
The Devils have Keith Kincaid in goal and a strong defence that was bolstered by the addition of Eric Gelinas, Adam Larsson (the third overall pick in 2011) and Jon Merrill.
This should be a good series, but bolstered by Michael Hutchinson in goal, I’ll take the IceCaps to win the series in five games.
John Albert, who got his first taste of the NHL earlier this season, has been excellent down the stretch and really developed his offensive game, finishing with 28 goals and 45 points in 63 games to finish sixth on the team in scoring.
Look for him to be a difference maker in this series as well.
Finally, I’ll end this post with a by the numbers box for your enjoyment.
St. John’s IceCaps (4) vs Albany Devils (5)
Fri, Apr. 25 – St. John’s at Albany, 6 p.m. CT
Sat, Apr. 26 – St. John’s at Albany, 6 p.m. CT
Wed, Apr. 30, Albany at St. John’s, 5 p.m. CT
* Fri, May 2 – Albany at St. John’s, 5 p.m. CT
* Sat, May 3 – Albany at St. John’s, 5 p.m. CT
* if necessary
St. John’s IceCaps: 76GP, 46-23-3, 5, 99 points. 3rd in Atlantic Division, 4th in Eastern Conference. 258 goals for, 207 goals against
Albany Devils: 40-23-5-8, 93 points, 220 goals for, 193 goals against. 2nd in Northeast Division, 5th in Eastern Conference
IceCaps team leaders
Points: Jason Jaffray (59)
Goals: John Albert (28)
Assists: Jason Jaffray (41)
Penalty minutes: JC Lipon (136)
Goaltending: Michael Hutchinson (17-5-1, 2.30 GAA, .923 save % in 24 GP)
Jets’ AHL prospect watch
D Brenden Kichton: 76GP, 10G, 38A, 48P
C John Albert: 63GP, 28G, 17A, 45P
RW Carl Klingberg: 65GP, 22G, 20A, 42P
C Eric O’Dell: 42GP, 17G, 25A, 42P
RW JC Lipon 72GP, 9G, 322A, 41P
C Adam Lowry: 64GP, 17G, 16A, 33P
C Patrice Cormier: 61GP, 9G, 17A, 26P
D Zach Redmond: 40GP, 6G, 19A, 25P
D Julian Melchiori: 50GP, 1G, 10A, 11P
D Ben Chiraot: 65GP, 6G, 14A, 20P
D Josh Morrissey: 8GP, 0G, 1A, 1P