For the third time in as many seasons, Josh Morrissey finds himself working with a new defence partner for the start of Winnipeg Jets training camp. But unlike the recent past, the 26-year-old Calgarian is looking at this latest arrangement from more of a long range perspective.
Morrissey has skated alongside newcomer Nate Schmidt since day one of camp. And following Friday’s workout at Bell MTS IcePlex, the progress report was — as one would expect — promising.
“It’s been fun to play with Schmitty. We’ve been talking a lot and trying to get used to one another,” was how Morrissey summed up what had been accomplished to date, for what is expected to be the Jets number one defence pairing.
Schmidt’s energy and outgoing personality, and the impact that could have on the team this season, has been one of the many — sorry for the pun — “talking points” of this training camp. And Morrissey joined right into the “good humour” vibe of many of his teammates when discussing how he and his new defence partner have been working at developing that all-important on- and off-ice chemistry.
“Yeah, he’s tough to get to know. You really gotta try to peel back the layers with him,” said Morrissey with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “He’s been awesome, just a ton of fun. I think I probably know just about everything there is to know about him by now.
“But in saying that, just about every day he’s got something new. I think one of the first things he told me was it’s okay to tell me to stop talking sometimes.”
So communication will clearly not be an issue between Morrissey and Schmidt. And neither will a lack of skill, mobility and experience for the duo who debuted in Wednesday’s 5-1 pre-season victory over Edmonton and each played about a game high 22 minutes.
With all due respect to the likes of Dmitry Kulikov, Tucker Poolman, Sami Niku, Nathan Beaulieu, and even Dylan DeMelo, Josh Morrissey has not been blessed with a defence partner of Nate Schmidt’s caliber since Jacob Trouba was traded to the New York Rangers just prior to the 2019 entry draft.
And while there’s long-term potential for this pairing, with both players under contract for at least the next four years. Morrissey says it’s a little early to be looking that far into the future.
“When you can find the right pairing and everything works, if you can stay with that player for as long as you can, that’s always a good thing,” was how Morrissey responded to being asked about that possibility.
“We’re one game in. We complement each other well, personality-wise and in terms of our games as well. I think we’ll try to play a very aggressive style of defence and not give opponents much time and space.
“I’m really excited about our back end in general.”
Aside from the additions of Schmidt and Brenden Dillon, the other big change for Morrissey will be going into a season for the very first time without his father. Tom Morrissey died on Aug. 8 following a year-long battle with cancer.
Very few people were aware of that extra burden Morrissey was carrying with him last season, but he says the response of the hockey community to the passing of his dad was truly inspiring.
“Obviously from within our own organization — teammates past and present — the support was pretty remarkable throughout last season as well when not many people knew what was going on,” said Morrissey. “Even from outside of the organization, whether it was old teammates and coaches — even some people I’ve never met in the game, in the NHL — reached out to me.
“It’s a special thing, a special community. When someone’s going through a tough time or a family’s going through a tough time, there’s a lot of character people that want to be there and support you.”
Morrissey said being back at camp with teammates, many of whom he has spent his previous six professional seasons with, has been therapeutic in the ongoing recovery from his personal loss. And head coach Paul Maurice says it at least appears as though the veteran defenceman isn’t carrying that same weight on his shoulders from last season.
“I don’t know that it’s observation and you can see it in his face. We’ve had a conversation or two about it. We’d spoken a fair amount over his time, just checking in to make sure how he was handling it.” said Maurice following Friday’s on ice session.
“He’s stated it, and we think we see it maybe because of that. He’s looking forward to playing hockey and this being a real good place for him to start the healing process.”
The Jets trimmed their camp roster to 40 players on Friday with the release of forwards Evan Polei and Haralds Egle as well as goalie Philippe Desrosiers from professional tryouts.
Maurice made it pretty clear earlier in camp there was no need for veteran players like Captain Blake Wheeler, forward Paul Stastny and #1 goalie Connor Hellebuyck to be on this weekend’s road trip for games three and four of the preseason in Edmonton and Vancouver.
But league rules state teams must dress a minimum eight NHL category players for each exhibition game. So with a schedule that sees Winnipeg playing the Oilers and Canucks on back-to-back nights, there won’t be many empty seats on the charter flight when it departs for the Alberta capital Saturday morning.
And Maurice indicated the battle for the four or five available forward positions has been far from decided. So it will be a crucial 48-72 hours for the likes of Jansen Harkins, Kristian Vesalainen, Evgeny Svechnikov, Riley Nash, Cole Perfetti, David Gustafsson, and Dominic Toninato.
“These next two games are highly unusual for us. We’re on the road and I don’t want to take everybody,” pointed out the veteran bench boss. “We’ll put two fairly young lineups for these next two and then when we come back out of it I’ll have to start giving guys a chance in the spot that I think they’re going to start.
“So we’ve got a bunch of tinkering to do.”
Both the Saturday and Sunday broadcasts from Edmonton and Vancouver begin at 4 p.m. CT on 680 CJOB with the Curtis Carpets Pregame Show. Paul Edmonds and Jamie Thomas will provide the play by play coverage starting at 6 p.m.