The Prince Albert Raiders don’t get the same type of fanfare as their Western Hockey League counterparts in Portland, Edmonton, and Kelowna largely because they are so far north in the prairies of Saskatchewan. The Raider’s though are quietly having a solid year and currently sit fifth place in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. Last year, Prince Albert finished dead last in all of the WHL. One reason for the team’s turnaround this year is the emergence of defenseman Josh Morrissey. The 6-foot, 175-pound blueliner started of the season with 14 points in 16 games and currently has 15 goals, 28 assists for 43 points in 63 games played. Morrissey has been one of the steadiest risers so far in this year’s class and he should have his named called in the top 15.
Morrissey’s game revolves around his incredible skating and mobility. He’s regarded as one of the best mobile defenseman for the draft. Morrissey has very good puck skills with a good shot and has outstanding vision and contributes offensively. In Prince Albert, he’s relied upon to carry the puck through the neutral zone, which he does with ease. Morrissey loves to set up his teammates on the powerplay with one-touch passes and cross-seam plays. He’s one player the opposing team must keep their eyes on at all times. His point shot is not overpowering but it’s accurate and often creates rebounds.
What I love about Morrissey is his knack for jumping up into the rush and his eagerness to chip in offensively. From watching him play, it’s not unusual for Morrissey to sneak down from the point and carry the puck down low into the zone. One thing he’s going to need to learn at the NHL level is when to be aggressive and when to sit back. Too many times I have seen Morrissey’s over aggressiveness lead to odd man rushes the other way. On the defensive side of the game, Morrissey likes to play a passive style of defense keeping attacking forwards to the outside.
Morrissey may not be the most imposing player on the ice but forwards beware as he’s not afraid to throw his body around. Morrissey loves to take advantage of forwards skating through the neutral zone with their heads down. Overall, Morrissey reminds me of a Mark Giordano/Niklas Kronwall mix type player. A player who can skate, hit, chip in offensively, and has a strong hockey IQ. His strengths are his excellent skating and mobility and his creativity and vision on the power play. Morrissey will be a steal for any team picking outside the top 10. He would certainly be a welcome addition to the Flyers organization. The only concern is there is no way Morrissey will be around when the Flyers will pick.
The Memorial Cup host Saskatoon Blades saw their 18-game winning streak snapped on Sunday as the Blades blew a four-goal third period lead and lost 5-4 in overtime to the dismal Moose Jaw Warriors. Tanner Eberle’s overtime winner was one of the most bizarre things that I have ever seen. Moose Jaw blocked a shot that wound up in the Blades defensive zone with Toronto Maple Leafs first rounder last year, Morgan Reilly, ahead of the puck. Blades goalie Andrey Makarov (signed by Buffalo as an undrafted free agent) somehow thought he could outrace Reilly. Well that didn’t end to well as Reilly skated past Makarov at the blue line and set up Eberle for the tap in. It was a weird night overall as blizzard conditions meant only 1,200 fans were attendance. Ironically enough, the one point Saskatoon earned pushed them ahead of the Calgary Hitmen for the second-best record in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
On Sunday, Peterborough Petes captain and Flyers 2011 seventh-round pick Derek Mathers became the first Ontario Hockey League player to receive a suspension for having more than 10 fights. This should keep Mathers out of four of the Petes’ last five games since he took the instigator penalty. An eleventh fight is an automatic two-game ban, but the instigator could mean additional penalties. Not having Mathers will certainly affect the Petes. Mathers has become all-around power winger for a Peterborough team that was 16 points out of the playoff picture at Christmas, now are only four points back with five games to play.