By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Head coach Paul Maurice says Josh Morrissey is a rare player and he’s happy the young defenceman is sticking with the Winnipeg Jets.
The former restricted free agent signed a two-year, US$6.3-million contract on Sunday, but the top-pairing blue-liner was not scheduled to play in Monday’s first exhibition game at home against the Minnesota Wild after missing the start of training camp.
“A really unusual (learning) curve, so I wouldn’t say that I’ve had another player like this, especially a defenceman,” Maurice said when asked about Morrissey’s development after Monday’s morning skate.
“Josh got drafted as a really smooth, puck-moving defenceman with some real fine offensive skill. The questions for every single defenceman coming in is, how will they handle these guys one-on-one? How will they defend?”
It didn’t take long for the Calgary native to begin delivering positive answers after Winnipeg selected him 13th overall in the 2013 NHL draft.
“For two or three years, we were happy with his progress,” Maurice said. “It was still going to be (that) he’s going to have to come in, turn pro, spend a few years learning how to defend and that will be his Achilles heel but he’s going to be a pretty good offensive player.
“Then he just came back one summer (2016) and he was fairly close to our best shutdown guy.”
Morrissey, 23, played 57 games in 2015-16 for Winnipeg’s AHL team, the Manitoba Moose, and got into one Jets game that season.
He stuck with the NHL club for the next two campaigns, playing 82 games in 2016-17 and 81 games last season, where he put up seven goals and a career-high 26 points.
Morrissey participated with his teammates in some informal skates this month, but wasn’t around when players underwent medicals last Thursday.
“It was a tough few days and it felt like an eternity over the weekend,” Morrissey said.
“It’s just nice. Definitely a big weight off your shoulders when it’s finally done and you can get back to again playing hockey and being here with my teammates.”
The six-foot, 195-pound defensive partner of Jacob Trouba said he was fine inking a bridge deal and hopes it carries into a longer contract down the road.
An arbitrator awarded Trouba a one-year, $5.5 million contract in July.
“The Jets had a lot going on this summer, so for me we got a later start at getting things going,” said Morrissey, whose contract has an average annual value of $3.15 million.
“I think it just felt like it was the best move for both sides at this time. I love playing here. I love being a Jet and I hope I can be here for a long term in the future.”
Morrissey has shown his dedication to the club in a physical way, too. He sacrificed his body with a team-high 168 block shots last season.
He has a reputation of being a polite young man off the ice who plays a clean game, but there was one blemish added to his resume last season.
Morrissey received a one-game suspension from the league’s department of player safety for cross-checking Wild forward Eric Staal in the neck in Game 4 of last season’s first round of the Western Conference playoffs. He missed Game 5, which the Jets won to clinch the series.