As one of the more composed players on and off the ice for the Winnipeg Jets, rarely is Josh Morrissey unprepared for what you ask of him.
Need him to opine about a topical social issue? While most players around the league cringe at such an opportunity, the 25-year-old Morrissey will provide you a genuine and thorough take well beyond his years.
Need him to log major ice time, playing in all situations? Just ask head coach Paul Maurice, who has leaned on No. 44 often, with only fellow defenceman Neal Pionk (23:23) averaging more ice time than Morrissey (22:46) per game in 2019-20.
So it comes as no surprise when Morrissey looks back at his campaign last season, one in which he struggled at times due mainly to the departure of a number of veteran blue-line teammates, he can be honest with himself. He knows he needs to be better but perhaps more importantly, he's acutely aware of where the Jets need him to get to.
That process started with an honest self-reflection in the off-season.
"The best players make the other players around them better and that doesn’t mean you end up doing more in your role. When you try and do too much and sort of always get caught in that in between — which I think I was little bit guilty of last year at times, especially in the first half of the year — and sort of trying to do more and getting caught in that middle ground, where you’re not doing anything or not doing your job sufficiently," Morrissey said Friday following Day 6 of training camp.
"That’s where you can be so good at your job and so consistent in your reads and consistent in your compete level and your battle level and your ability as a defenceman to end a play in your own end as fast as possible and get the puck to your partner and into your forwards’ hands. That’s how you’re making the players around you better. That’s really been something I’ve thought about a lot and as a goal of mine to continue to work on and improve at as we get into this season and as I move forward in my career."
Morrissey is entering his fifth season with the Jets, making him the club's most familiar face on the blue line. Only Nathan Beaulieu has played more NHL games (370), and while he may have more experience, Morrissey is the more talented player.
With the exit of defenceman Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Dustin Byfuglien prior to the 2019-20 season, Morrissey was sprung into a role that carried more responsibility than what was to be expected of him. While the Jets traded Trouba and let Myers and Chiarot walk in free agency, Byfuglien shocked the club when he decided to undergo ankle surgery and leave the game seemingly for good, including having his contract terminated with the Jets.
That mass exodus made Morrissey the Jets' undisputed leader on defence — he inherited Byfuglien's appointment as alternate captain — and it came with some notable growing pains. It also left him without one of his greatest mentors, as it was playing with Byfuglien for years that allowed Morrissey to flourish into an everyday NHLer.
With the Jets in abundance of young defensive prospects, it's Morrissey's turn to play teacher. And Maurice is confident that, like Byfuglien, he can mentor the young players while also improving the game of all the defencemen on the team.
"We're looking at that this year. Buff’s game was different, right? There was lots of variation in his game but he was consistently a gamer. And the one thing that people wouldn’t know about Dustin is that he practised really, really intensely. So when the first shooting drill started he was passing the puck hard, he was jumping up, he was chirping people and Josh is a different personality, but it's the same thing. He's not waiting for the third drill to warm up," said Maurice, adding Morrissey might have put too much pressure on himself after signing a new contract.
"So when your partner is going as hard as Josh is going, you go that hard. The thing that I've enjoyed the first five days were the skates at the end of practice. Josh is driving around the nets right and he's going hard through the neutral zone when he’s skating. He's not looking to manage his physical pain; he's looking to push it to the threshold. You start to see that from our other men and even the younger guys now… But the group is starting to get that kind of maturity, that practise like men, play like men."
Morrissey is currently playing with second-year blue-liner Tucker Poolman on the top pairing. Poolman brings size, at 6-2, but the success of the duo — and ultimately Poolman's development — will fall squarely on Morrissey. The same can be said for youngsters Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg, both of whom will likely spend the season with the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League.
"As a player you try and get as comfortable with whoever you’re playing with. (Poolman) and I played together early last season. I didn’t feel like I was at my best when I was playing with him. He was just coming into the league, it was his first opportunity to really be a full-time player and play against top lines and in a lot of different situations," Morrissey said.
"I feel like we’re in a better spot. He’s more experienced. With the way he ended the year, he was playing awesome in the bubble for us. I feel my game has gotten to another level as well. I think we’re both in a better spot to work at it again and again, we’ll see all the different pairings and things will always change, but it’s nice to get some different looks with different guys and get comfortable."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.