2011 NHL Draft: Grading the Pittsburgh Penguins First-Round Pick Joseph Morrow

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2011 NHL Draft: Grading the Pittsburgh Penguins First-Round Pick Joseph Morrow
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Penguins First Round Pick Joe Morrow

The Pittsburgh Penguins were on the clock late Friday night in St. Paul, Minnesota. Soon they would make their first-round selection. Options were plentiful.

Still available were forwards Nicklas Jensen, Tomas Jurco and Pittsburgh area product Brandon Saad. While these players likely would not crack the Penguins top-six forward units in the next two seasons, with proper development they could each be nice long term fits for Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

General manager Ray Shero, Jack Adams Award-winning coach Dan Bylsma and the scouting staff put their heads together. To the podium they went...and selected defenseman Joseph Morrow.

This was not exactly the moment many Pens fans had hoped for.

It is not a matter of distrust in Ray Shero and his team. Far from it. Penguins fans know that Ray Shero can spot talent.

But with such high-potential forwards available, it almost seems like a thumbing at the nose of the notion of building talented forwards around the current superstars in the future.

The actual pick is not bad. Morrow is a 6'0", 197-lb. offensive defenseman that is said to have a physical side. Central scouting gave him a final rank of 12 among North American Skaters.

He played 60 games with Portland of the WHL last season, scoring nine goals with 40 assists. His 67 PIM is assumed to be proof of his "physical side."

Was picking Joe Morrow better than taking an available forward?

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Where this pick could potentially be troubling is from a depth standpoint. The Penguins have a full roster of defenseman at the NHL level, but it is conceded that one does not use the 23rd pick to draft a player to fit in right away.

Currently, the Penguins have some prospects at defense in the system. Simon Despres, Phillip Samuelsson, Carl Sneep, Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo all could find roles in the NHL someday.

Beyond the NHL roster, the list of potential scoring forwards is much more limited. Last year's first-round pick Beau Bennett and the occasional breakout player from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton are the only hopes on that front.

Perhaps, in a best case scenario, all of these defenseman are NHL-worthy at some point and one or two can be used in trades for a scoring forward. It is a questionable strategy though when the potential to grab and develop your own version of one was clearly still a possibility.

Overall, I grade the pick as a B.

Maybe it is better for the team to not reach on a forward when such a highly graded defenseman was still on the table, but Penguins fans certainly hope that we do not see the names of Jensen, Jurco and Saad filling the net three or four years from now at a pace that Sid and Geno's wingers still are not capable of doing.

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