Maybe someday they’ll be a blue-line pairing for the Jets in the NHL, but beginning this fall the race will be on between Josh Morrissey and Jan Kostalek to see which of the prospects first gets a permanent stall in the Winnipeg Jets dressing room.

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Opinion

Maybe someday they’ll be a blue-line pairing for the Jets in the NHL, but beginning this fall the race will be on between Josh Morrissey and Jan Kostalek to see which of the prospects first gets a permanent stall in the Winnipeg Jets dressing room.

Morrissey of the Kelowna Rockets and the Rimouski Oceanic’s Kostalek are competing against each other at the Memorial Cup this week and they’ll likely be doing the same for the next number of years within the Jets’ organization.

Kelowna Rockets defenceman Josh Morrissey, shown at a Winnipeg Jets camp in Penticton, B.C., last September, is one of the Western Conference champion’s veteran leaders after arriving via trade from the Prince Albert Raiders last December.

FILE PHOTO

Kelowna Rockets defenceman Josh Morrissey, shown at a Winnipeg Jets camp in Penticton, B.C., last September, is one of the Western Conference champion’s veteran leaders after arriving via trade from the Prince Albert Raiders last December.

The pair were both selected in the 2013 draft with Morrissey going in the first round (13th overall) while Kostalek had to wait until the fourth round to be selected 114th overall.

They may have been far apart on draft day, but their careers are now on a collision course.

Morrissey’s stock has flattened after taking an enormous surge during the Calder Cup playoffs in the spring of 2014. Since then he’s won gold at the world juniors and helped propel the Rockets to this week’s major A title tournament.

Morrissey joined the St. John’s IceCaps during their run to the Calder Cup final last spring and was immediately impressive. His work in the AHL playoffs had many wondering if it wouldn’t be better for him to step right into the NHL and forgo a final year in junior. An underwhelming training camp with the Jets, however, quickly ended that talk.

Morrissey’s development appears to have not been best served by another year in junior. The perfect scenario for the player would have seen him spend last season in the AHL with the St. John’s IceCaps, but due to the requirements of the NHL’s agreement with the CHL it was either the Jets or junior.

"This happens with players from time to time. Morrissey hasn’t slipped, but I didn’t see a lot of improvement this season," said an NHL scout on Monday. "He’s an elite skater who sees the ice very well. He’s got high, high, hockey sense. He also has an edge that is understated. He’s undersized but he’ll step up and pop you. He’ll probably need half a season or more in the AHL, but he’s going to be fine."

Kostalek has steadily improved since being drafted, and this season was named QMJHL defenceman of the year after scoring seven goals and 43 points in 57 games for the Oceanic.

Jan Kostalek

CP

Jan Kostalek

"He’s shown he has more offensive upside since he was drafted," said the scout. "I considered him a safe defenceman who could skate and pass the puck with pretty good hockey sense. But he’s shown he can join the play and help kick-start offence. I still think Morrissey is the better prospect, but Kostalek has closed the gap."

Morrissey is small and Kostalek is more medium than large.

No prospect is an automatic. Morrissey and Kostalek have a long way to go and with a smallish puckmover such as Toby Enstrom already in the lineup, it’s hard to imagine one or both of these two also on the roster.

The Jets blue-line, with Dustin Byfuglien in the last year of his contract, is headed towards a state of change. The development of Morrissey and Kostalek will be closely watched and will help shape the story of the future of the Jets defence.

 

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless