Every NHL Team's Top Rookie for the 2014-15 NHL Season

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistJuly 26, 2014

Every NHL Team's Top Rookie for the 2014-15 NHL Season

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    NHL teams are done with their offseason business, adding help in areas of need and trading off excess from areas of depth. In many cases, teams have made room for rookies, giving them a chance to win a job, while also protecting themselves in case their phenom isn't ready.

    Many teams work their young players in slowly, so a complete season in the NHL is unlikely for them. Other teams project their best young talent into feature roles and rely heavily on them from opening night.

    Here are the top rookies, by team, for the 2014-15 season.

Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson

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    The Numbers: 45 GP, 2.34 goals-against-average and a .919 save percentage with the Norfolk Admirals (AHL). He also performed well in three late-season NHL games and four postseason games with the Anaheim Ducks.

    The Skill Set: John Gibson is an exceptional prospect who is a perfect match for NHL teams in their search for big, mobile goaltenders. The Hockey News' scouting report on Gibson mentions his size and natural talent.

    The Opportunity: The Ducks' depth chart has undergone a complete overhaul in 12 months. Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth are gone, and young Frederik Andersen is projected as the No. 1 starter for 2014-15. Anaheim signed veteran Jason LaBarbera to back him up, but Gibson's playoff performance gives him an excellent chance to grab the top job in training camp.

Arizona Coyotes: Brandon Gormley

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    The Numbers: 54 GP, 7 G, 29 A with the Portland Pirates (AHL). He also received his first NHL recall and played five games with the Arizona Coyotes during the season.

    The Skill Set: Brandon Gormley is on target as an NHL player. The Coyotes are textbook when it comes to developing players, so his two AHL seasons are common practice for the team. His scouting report via The Hockey News suggests Gormley possesses a complete set of skills.

    The Opportunity: Arizona boasts established defensemen at the top of their depth chart, but there's plenty of room for youngsters in the bottom pairing and early recalls. Gormley will battle Connor Murphy, Chris Summers and David Schlemko for playing time in 2014-15. His draft pedigree and talent should allow him to win a regular job. 

Boston Bruins: Alexander Khokhlachev

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    The Numbers: 65 GP, 21 G, 36 A with the Providence Bruins (AHL). He also played in his first NHL game in April 2014 with the Boston Bruins.

    The Skill Set: Alexander Khokhlachev is a dynamite offensive prospect with a range of skills. The Hockey News bio tells us Khokhlachev can pass and score and that he can play center or wing.

    The Opportunity: Boston is a veteran group with an enormous cap hit—so large they couldn't bring back Jarome Iginla. The Bruins' depth chart screams opportunity, and Khokhlachev has enough talent and potential to deliver. His only real competition among prospects is David Pastrnak, who was taken by the Bruins in Round 1 of this summer's draft. Odds favor Khokhlachev winning the day.

Buffalo Sabres: Sam Reinhart

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    The Numbers: 60 GP, 36 G, 69 A with the Kootenay Ice (WHL).

    The Skill Set: Sam Reinhart is a special talent, and he should come right to the NHL and have an impact. TSN's Craig Button wrote this about Reinhart ahead of the draft:

    Sam 'beats up' opponents with his mind. Exceptional intelligence and he understands what to do, where to be and how to be highly productive both individually and for the team. Knows how to get the best out of situations.

    The Opportunity: The Buffalo Sabres' depth chart has a wide range of youth at the center position. Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis are the offensive leaders, and Zemgus Girgensons is a load. Even young Russian Mikhail Grigorenko has a story to tell and could impact the roster in 2014-15. Sam Reinhart has more natural talent than all of them, and he will emerge as the top talent as early as this season. 

Calgary Flames: Johnny Gaudreau

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    The Numbers: 40 GP, 36 G, 44 A with Boston College (NCAA). He also scored a goal in his first NHL game with the Calgary Flames.

    The Skill Set: The Hockey's Future report on Johnny Gaudreau is glowing:

    Gaudreau has really quick hands, shifty moves; explosive speed and this really small centerman could stickhandle in a phone booth. He has the determination and big time skill to prove the doubters wrong about his size, similar to Martin St. Louis.

    The Opportunity: The Calgary Flames are a rebuilding team with many quality options. They selected Sam Bennett at the 2014 entry draft, and graduated Sean Monahan a year ago. The depth chart shows some opportunities for young players, and Gaudreau is going to get a long look this fall. If he wins a job, NHL fans are going to get to know him in a hurry.

Carolina Hurricanes: Victor Rask

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    The Numbers: 76 GP, 16 G, 23 A with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL).

    The Skill Set: In July of 2013, Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus gave an excellent scouting report on Victor Rask:

    Rask is a great puck possession forward who has good, if not great, puck skills and offensive awareness. He is a top of the line playmaker and is very dangerous from the sideboards. Rask has average size but protects the puck effectively. He has also improved his defensive play and he is decent in the faceoff circle.

    The Opportunity: The Carolina Hurricanes' depth chart has several openings at forward, and Rask is ideally situated to take advantage. His minor league numbers suggest he won't deliver a lot of offense if he plays in 2014-15 with Carolina, but he has a solid skill set. 

Chicago Blackhawks: Teuvo Teravainen

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    The Numbers: 49 GP, 9 G, 35 A with Jokerit Helsinki (SM-Liiga). He also played three games in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks.

    The Skill Set: As mentioned in the look at the Bleacher Report 10 best rookies eligible for the Calder Trophy, Teravainen is certainly in the mix for NHL employment. Quoting Seth Gruen from The Chicago Sun-Times:

    [Last season] was a good experience. Had a really long season, played with five or six different teams. Hard season for me, but it was good, too. Got a lot of experience when I came here [to Chicago]. I’m more ready because of that.

    The Opportunity: The Chicago Blackhawks scored a major win in free agency when Brad Richards signed with them. As the Gruen article indicates, Teuvo Teravainen is ready and sooner or later he'll find his way into the lineup.

Colorado Avalanche: Calvin Pickard

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    The Numbers: 43 GP, 2.85 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage with the Lake Erie Monsters (AHL).

    The Skill Set: The Hockey News describes Calvin Pickard as a workhorse goaltender who could improve his chances of making the NHL by letting in fewer soft goals.

    The Opportunity: The Colorado Avalanche are a veteran-laden group for 2014-15. There's always a chance for a surprise player to emerge, but the positions available will be challenged by veterans and non-rookie minor league players. The exception is Pickard, who ranks No. 3 on the depth chart and could play a larger role with injury or slumps. After the brilliance of rookie Nathan MacKinnon a year ago, all is quiet in Denver this year.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Simon Hjalmarsson

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    The Numbers: 55 GP, 27 G, 30 A with Linkoping (SHL) in Sweden.  

    The Skill Set: Simon Hjalmarsson is an undersized skill-winger signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency. The Hockey News reports he can create offense for himself and his line mates, but size will be an issue. 

    The Opportunity: Aaron Portzline from Puck-Rakers blog at The Columbus Dispatch has Hjalmarsson in the mix for a fourth-line role with the Blue Jackets in 2014-15. If he gets an opportunity, Hjalmarrson could surprise. The Columbus depth chart shows there is little room for rookies this fall.

Dallas Stars: Patrick Nemeth

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    The Numbers: 37 GP, 3 G, 7 A with the Texas Stars (AHL). He also played in eight games for the Dallas Stars in his NHL debut

    The Skill Set: The Hockey News scouting report on Patrick Nemeth discusses a player with a wide range of skills. He shows shutdown potential, and can move the puck well. Nemeth has very good size for an NHL defenseman.

    The Opportunity: The Dallas Stars' depth chart has a number of young defensemen pushing for NHL employment. Nemeth is big enough to get noticed, and skilled enough to stay if he can make the team. 

Detroit Red Wings: Teemu Pulkkinen

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    The Numbers: 71 GP, 31 G, 28 A with the Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL). He also played in three games for the Detroit Red Wings, his first in the NHL.

    The Skill Set: Corey Pronman from Hockey Prospectus wrote about Pulkkinen in 2012, suggesting the Red Wings have an undersized skill winger with good potential. 

    The Opportunity: The Detroit Red Wings' depth chart shows no room for Pulkkinen and other quality prospects trying to pass him. Anthony Mantha is going to get a lot of attention in training camp, but Detroit is the most conservative team in the NHL when it comes to graduating prospects. Pulkkinen had a wonderful AHL season in 2013-14, and he'll get a chance this year.

Edmonton Oilers: Leon Draisaitl

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    The Numbers: 64 GP, 38 G, 67 A with the Prince Albert Raiders (WHL).

    The Skill Set: Leon Draisaitl's resume is a perfect fit for the Edmonton Oilers. A team that has been looking for a big skill center since trading Jason Arnott finally has their man. Craig Button from TSN describes Draisaitl:

    Leon is smart and his awareness allows him to make plays and impact the game in multiple ways. He sees potential for plays that very few do and as a team mate you have to be ready because he gets puck to advantageous spots

    The Opportunity: The Oilers badly want Draisaitl to make the grade this fall, reflected in the fact that they traded Sam Gagner two days after drafting the German. Jason Gregor writes in The Edmonton Journal that Draisaitl is in the Alberta capital working all summer with the goal of making the team in October. 

Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad

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    The Numbers58 GP, 23 G, 30 A with the Barrie Colts (OHL).

    The Skill Set: Aaron Ekblad is a franchise defenseman who is physically strong enough to compete in the NHL right now. Corey Pronman of ESPN (subscription requiredl) gives reasons for Panthers fans to be excited:

    The areas where he separates from the pack are his physical game and defensive value, with both being elite. It's rare that a big, strong defender like Ekblad possesses such natural hockey skills. In addition, he has high-end to elite hockey IQ on both ends and a huge shot. That total package looks like a player who has an NHL All-Star floor and the ceiling of being one of the NHL's elite blueliners.

    The Opportunity: The Panthers' depth chart at defense is strong, and they don't have to force Ekblad into the NHL in 2014-15. His skill, size and maturity are so compelling it's a good bet he'll be in the Florida lineup opening night.

Los Angeles Kings: Jordan Weal

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    The Numbers: 76 GP, 23 G, 47 A with the Manchester Monarchs (AHL).

    The Skill Set: Jordan Weal came to pro hockey with the reputation of being a quality offensive player, and he's delivered. John Hoven of Mayor's Manor reports—with help from Andy Tonge—that Weal is establishing himself as more of a 200-foot player.

    The Opportunity: The Kings' depth chart is strong and deep at every position. There's every chance Los Angeles goes the entire season without giving 25 games to any rookie. If Jordan Weal gets the opportunity, there's enough skill and ability for him to win a job in the NHL.

Minnesota Wild: Christian Folin

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    The Numbers: 41 GP, 6 G, 14 A with UMass-Lowell (NCAA). Christian Folin also played his first NHL game with the Minnesota Wild. 

    The Skill Set: The Hockey News describes a puck-moving defenseman with NHL size. His debut was quality, as he played just under 20 minutes and received playing time at even strength, power play and penalty kill.

    The Opportunity: The Wild's depth chart has lots of room for emerging defensemen, and there's every chance Matt Dumba gets the nod this season. Folin is an older player and may take any job made available to a rookie defenseman this fall. 

Montreal Canadiens: Jiri Sekac

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    The Numbers: 47 GP, 11 G, 17 A with HC Lev Praha (KHL).  

    The Skill Set: Jiri Sekac has NHL size and skill. The KHL numbers were enough for Montreal to sign him, and for Sekac it's the fulfillment of a dream based on this NHL.com article by Arpon Basu. One impressive item: Sekac's numbers were posted in 14 minutes a night playing time, meaning he was productive in limited minutes. 

    The Opportunity: The Canadiens' depth chart offers challenges for a newcomer, and the team is designed to be competitive in 2014-15. Sekac will have some adjustments, and there may be some difficult moments, but he has a very good chance to play in the NHL this coming season.

Nashville Predators: Calle Jarnkrok

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    The Numbers: 63 GP, 18 G, 27 A with the Grand Rapids Griffins and Milwaukee Admirals (AHL). Calle Jarnkrok also made his NHL debut with the Nashville Predators this season. He was the centerpiece coming from the Detroit Red Wings in the David Legwand trade. 

    The Skill Set: Calle Jarnkrok is a young center with plenty of skill. PJ Sapienza of Bleacher Report wrote about him in 2013, quoting Detroit scout Ari Vuori via Matthew Wuest of Red Wings Central. Vuori said the young player can own the puck.

    The Opportunity: The Predators' depth chart saw three significant additions over the summer. Olli Jokinen, Derek Roy and Mike Ribeiro all signed with Nashville, and things are getting crowded at center. Some of those pivots may end up on the wing, and Jarnkrok is a candidate because of his pure offensive skill. He has the ability to have an impact if he wins a job.

New Jersey Devils: Reid Boucher

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    The Numbers: 56 GP, 22 G, 16 A with the Albany Devils (AHL). Reid Boucher made his NHL debut with the New Jersey Devils, playing 23 games and barely holding on to his rookie eligibility.  

    The Skill Set: Boucher is an undersized winger with goal-scoring ability—exactly what the Devils were drafting when selecting him in 2011. The Hockey News bio suggests much the same, including a mention of his accurate shot.

    The Opportunity: The Devils' depth chart has a lot of older players and question marks. A young skill-winger like Boucher has a real chance this fall to make the team and have an impact. Boucher's 23 games a year ago should help him as he tries to make it as an NHL regular in 2014-15. 

New York Islanders: Griffin Reinhart

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    The Numbers: 45 GP, 4 G, 17 A with the Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL).

    The Skill Set: Corey Pronman's description of Griffin Reinhart for Hockey Prospectus before the 2012 draft suggests the New York Islanders were getting a tough defenseman. The unique part of Reinhart's scouting report is his puck-handling and passing ability—important elements of playing modern defense.

    The Opportunity: The Islanders' depth chart is running over with young defensive talent. Reinhart is the best of them, and should win the competition for a roster spot. If New York keeps him up, he could help them to a playoff spot in 2014-15.

New York Rangers: Jesper Fast

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    The Numbers: 48 GP, 17 G, 17 A with the Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL). Jesper Fast also played his first NHL games with the New York Rangers in 2013-14.

    The Skill Set: The Hockey News scouting report on Fast shows a skill winger who has been productive leading up to his NHL opportunity.

    The Opportunity: The Rangers are a veteran team and will be looking for another trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015. The depth chart shows little room for rookies but there might be just enough for Jesper Fast. 

Ottawa Senators: Curtis Lazar

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    The Numbers58 GP, 41 G, 35 A with the Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL).

    The Skill Set: Corey Pronman from Hockey Prospectus offered a scouting report on Curtis Lazar in the summer of 2013:

    He plays a high-speed game, and his skating is a legit plus skill. Lazar picks up speed quickly, and he is always moving his feet with quick strides. He is average sized, but he packs a good punch in the physical game, as he will hit, forecheck, and stick to his man on defense. Lazar is a high-end shooter, with a lot of power in his stick snaps. His puck skills are solid, and he is a very advanced defensive player for his age.

    The Opportunity: The Ottawa Senators' depth chart looks much different after a summer of massive change. Jason Spezza is gone; David Legwand has arrived. Change means opportunity, and Curtis Lazar can play center or wing, and possesses a complete skill set. He's a strong candidate to make the roster and contribute in 2014-15.

Philadelphia Flyers: Scott Laughton

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    The Numbers54 GP, 40 G, 47 A with the Oshawa Generals (OHL)

    The Skill Set: Scott Laughton is an ideal Philadelphia Flyers prospect. The Hockey News scouting report suggests he brings a physical element, agitates and has a non-stop motor. He'll be a favorite when he gets established in the NHL.

    The Opportunity: The Flyers' depth chart has four quality options ahead of Laughton at center. It may take an injury or a move to the wing, but he could be a contender for the Calder Trophy if playing time becomes abundant. 

Pittsburgh Penguins: Brian Dumoulin

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Numbers53 GP, 5 G, 16 A with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins (AHL). Brian Dumoulin made his NHL debut in 2013-14, playing six games with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    The Skill Set: In the summer of 2012, Corey Pronman from Hockey Prospectus offered his opinion of Dumoulin:

    He has very impressive offensive tools for a big defenseman, as he's an above-average puck-handler and passer. Dumoulin has good overall instincts in both ends, and sees the ice pretty well.

    The Opportunity: The Penguins' depth chart is brimming with young defensemen. Derrick Pouliot would be next in line, but his injury makes a leap to the NHL questionable. Dumoulin has a nice scouting report and could grab an opportunity this fall in Pittsburgh. Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette talks about the Pouliot injury and what it might mean for youngsters like Dumoulin.

San Jose Sharks: Daniil Tarasov

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    The Numbers: 47 GP, 17 G, 14 A with the Worcester Sharks (AHL).

    The Skill Set: Daniil Tarasov was never drafted, and his hockey pedigree doesn't stand out. However, the 23-year old from Moscow keeps doing good work. Corey Pronman from Hockey Prospectus wrote about him in the summer of 2013:

    Tarasov came out of nowhere this season. He signed a pro deal out of the USHL, and after being sent down to the ECHL, eventually fought his way back up to being one of Worcester's top players. Tarasov is a skilled player who plays at a good pace. His creativity is notably above average, and his offensive hockey sense drives a lot of his value.

    The Opportunity: The Sharks' depth chart is absolutely loaded with talent. The move of Brett Burns to defense offers a window of opportunity for a young forward, and Tarasov is in good position. His rise through the Sharks system is impressive. 

St. Louis Blues: Ty Rattie

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    The Numbers: 72 GP, 31 G, 17 A with the Chicago Wolves (AHL). Ty Rattie also made his NHL debut in 2013-14 with the St. Louis Blues.

    The Skill Set: Rattie is a scoring winger, and they are always in high demand. According to Corey Pronman from Hockey Prospectus:

    Rattie is a very talented forward with a high level of puck skills and offensive instincts. One scout described him as "always ahead of the play" in terms of his game processing and seeing scoring chances develop. His decision making has improved a lot. Rattie takes fewer risks, and even when he gets creative with the puck, he usually maintains possession and gets it to his teammates well. He is a decent skater, with a great shot.

    The Opportunity: The Blues' depth chart has the look of a team hunting the Stanley Cup. There will be little room for rookies, and only forwards Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin look to have a legitimate chance. Rattie's offensive skills are more likely to find their way to St. Louis this season. 

Tampa Bay Lightning: Jonathan Drouin

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    The Numbers: 45 GP, 29 G, 79 A with the Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL).

    The Skill Set: Jonathan Drouin is an elite-level talent. The biggest surprise of the cutdown period last fall saw the Tampa Bay Lightning sending him back to junior hockey. Drouin reacted by punishing opponents all winter long. This Joe Yerdon article for NBC Sports' Pro Hockey Talk delves into Drouin's reaction to the demotion in 2013 and details his determination this year.

    The Opportunity: The Lightning have real quality at left wing on their current depth chart, and Drouin will have to impress at training camp. The easiest bet on this list has him winning the job and being a finalist for the Calder Trophy in the summer of 2015.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Josh Leivo

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    The Numbers: 59 GP, 23 G, 19 A with the Toronto Marlies (AHL). Josh Leivo also played his first seven games in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs, scoring his first goal.

    The Skill Set: The Hockey News' scouting report on Leivo suggests he's an offensive player with the ability to score goals. The mention of being able to play away from the puck is a real positive for him.

    The Opportunity: The Maple Leafs' depth chart has quality at the top and several road blocks after that for Leivo. If he can be trusted in more than just an offensive role, he'll play a lot for Toronto in 2014-15. 

Vancouver Canucks: Linden Vey

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    The Numbers: 43 GP, 14 G, 34 A with the Manchester Monarchs (AHL). Linden Vey also made his NHL debut and played 18 games with the Los Angeles Kings.

    The Skill Set: Corey Pronman from Hockey Prospectus describes Vey as a resourceful player with a range of skills. He certainly displayed offensive ability in the AHL, enough for the Vancouver Canucks to give up a second-round pick to get him from Los Angeles. 

    The Opportunity: The Canucks' depth chart shows a team in transition. Vancouver isn't rebuilding, but there are changes in the wind. Linden Vey was acquired by a new management group interested in adding young talent to their most talented veterans. Vey is in a great position to grab a job and have a positive impact in Vancouver. 

Washington Capitals: Evgeny Kuznetsov

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    The Numbers: 31 GP, 8 G, 13 A with Chelyabinsk Traktor (KHL). Evgeny Kuznetsov made his NHL debut and played 17 games with the Washington Capitals.

    The Skill Set: Elite Prospects gives us an excellent idea about Kuznetsov as a player:

    A forward with excellent skating. Very creative with the puck. Has a good shot and soft hands. Has a very good eye for the game. Good stickhandling. Must gain strength.

    The Opportunity: The Capitals' depth chart has room for young players like Michael Latta and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The club could have more than one rookie making an impact in 2014-15, but Kuznetsov's skill should make him the marquee first-year player in Washington.

Winnipeg Jets: Josh Morrissey

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    The Numbers: 59 GP, 28 G, 45 A with the Prince Albert Raiders (WHL). 

    The Skill Set: Corey Pronman from Hockey Prospectus raves about Josh Morrissey: 

    Morrissey is a dynamic, fun-to-watch offensive defenseman. He is a high-end skater, and arguably better. His stride is very easy, he has good footwork, and he can make every move, as his speed, first step, and pivots are all at a high level. Morrissey is a very good puck mover who makes accurate outlets, and he has the creativity to be a significant asset on the power play. His overall offensive hockey instincts are plus.

    The Opportunity: The Winnipeg Jets' depth chart moves like a sundial. The club rarely makes a move of any kind, but Morrissey has a chance to jump ahead of the queue this fall. He has impact potential and will be hard to send back to junior. 


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