Don’t expect to see new-look blue-line

Morrissey likely to be sent down

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Josh Morrissey is likely heading back to junior unless something changes dramatically and that means a Winnipeg Jets blue-line that looks a lot like last year’s.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/09/2014 (3051 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Josh Morrissey is likely heading back to junior unless something changes dramatically and that means a Winnipeg Jets blue-line that looks a lot like last year’s.

Head coach Paul Maurice has been steadfast in saying his team’s goals against are the top priority in terms of areas of improvement and this will have to happen with a defence corps that still has a lot to prove.

If Morrissey is indeed destined for a winter on the bus in the Western Hockey League, the Jets will start with a top pairing of Toby Enstrom and Zach Bogosian and a second unit of Mark Stuart and Jacob Trouba. Grant Clitsome and one of Adam Pardy, Paul Postma or Keaton Ellerby will make up the third pairing.

joe bryksa / winnipeg free press files Defenceman Josh Morrissey

Bogosian will have to have a major bounce back this season to show he’s a top-pair defender. Stuart has attributes but playing him in the 20-minute range against top lines could prove to be a stretch.

None of the bottom pairing possibilities have consistently shown they are efficient NHL regulars to date. They are depth players so far afforded regular work because the Jets haven’t been able to replace them. Morrissey is at the top of the prospects list but it appears he’s not yet ready to push someone out of a job. That leaves the Jets with a thin blue-line that will have to overachieve in order to stabilize this team.

Morrissey was the wild card and potentially this season’s version of last year’s standout rookies Mark Schiefele and Trouba. A player with elite talent capable of pushing his way into the lineup and immediately making the Jets a better team. But it hasn’t happened.

Morrissey, who was very strong in his pro debut last spring with the St. John’s IceCaps during their Calder Cup run, has had a ragged camp.

For the Jets to keep him in the NHL and not send him back to the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, he needed to start at a high level and get better as the games went on. Instead of building a case Jets management could not deny, he’s been inconsistent.

Heading into camp, there was a school of thought Morrissey would be afforded the opportunity to put some polish on his game while learning on the job in the NHL simply because he would prove to be a better option than anyone else the Jets had slotted for their final pairing.

The ability to skate quickly into his own zone and retrieve pucks before quickly making an effective first pass out of the zone was immediately apparent when Morrissey arrived in St. John’s last spring. His smoothness on the power play was also evident. But so far, he has shown none of this consistently in three NHL pre-season games. The impetus to burn a year of his entry-level contract and begin the clock on his march to eventual unrestricted free agency just isn’t there. Not yet.

So, the Jets are left with what they had last year. Enstrom moves the puck better than all but for a handful of NHL defencemen. He has elite vision and can produce offence. One can argue he’s not very good in his own end but the whole purpose of his game is to get the puck up the ice and keep it there. He has game and lots of it.

Stuart is steady but shouldn’t be overtaxed. After that, it’s a handful of question marks.

Bogosian must take a step forward. Trouba is in his second year and needs to avoid slippage. Clitsome can’t slip into a crisis of confidence. Pardy, Ellerby and Postma have been fringe players to date and remain as much.

Morrissey wasn’t going to be a cure-all for the Jets blue-line but he had the potential to give the bottom pairing some skill.

Now it’s down to a lot of people playing over their head. I’m not saying it can’t be done but almost all of these guys will have to raise their games.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

 

 

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