Top-end defensemen are hard to find, but tonight at the Art Hauser Centre there will be two of the best sharing the ice when the Prince Albert Raiders host the Portland Winter Hawks at 7 p.m..
Josh Morrissey from the Raiders and Seth Jones from Portland are both expected to be first-round selections at the NHL entry draft in New Jersey next summer and although Jones is predicted to be a top-two pick, Morrissey is making a pretty strong case for his stock to rise.
‚ÄúWe only see Portland once a year and there is a lot of hype about Seth so it will be interesting to play against him,‚ÄĚ says Morrissey.
The 17-year-old Morrissey has blossomed into a strong leader and offensive threat in addition to taking care of his own end and his progress has not gone unnoticed.
When the Raiders failed to make the Western Hockey League playoffs last spring, Morrissey‚Äôs season didn‚Äôt end there. The Calgary product represented Canada at the world under-18 championships in Prague in April and then in August he was back overseas helping Canada win the gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament in Slovakia.
His performance at those two events has Morrissey on the radar of the national team once again and he admits that playing for Canada at the world junior tournament in Russia over the Christmas holidays is something in the back of his mind.
‚ÄúIt would be a huge honour,‚ÄĚ admits Morrissey. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm playing right now to win every night, but I would be honoured to get that chance.‚ÄĚ
Winning every night is exactly what is happening right now with Morrissey and his Raider teammates as they have exploded out of the gate going 7-0-0-1 to lead the entire league. Morrissey says it is a lot more fun playing this year with the success the team is enjoying early in the season.
‚ÄúWe have started out good as a team,‚ÄĚ says Morrissey, who has two goals and seven assists in the first eight games. ‚ÄúIt has been a lot of fun after we went through such a touch season last year.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúPersonally, not too much was going in for me at the beginning of the season, but lately it has turned around,‚ÄĚ added Morrissey. ‚ÄúAs long as the team keeps winning I‚Äôll be happy.‚ÄĚ
Morrissey, who last year as a 16-year-old scored 10 goals and added 28 assists in 68 games, knows the NHL scouts are watching and that there will likely be plenty in the stands tonight, but he says this is what he has worked so hard for.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm excited about it (NHL draft),‚ÄĚ says Morrissey. ‚ÄúI can‚Äôt lie about, it is in the back of my head, but I‚Äôm just trying to work hard every day and improve.‚ÄĚ
RAIDER NOTES: Jones is the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones and he hails from Plano, Texas. Originally picked by the Everett Silvertips, his rights were traded to Portland earlier this year and Jones then opted to play for the Winter Hawks rather than attend the University of North Dakota. The 18-year-old Jones, who is in a battle with Halifax Moosehead forward Nathan Mackinnon for the No. 1 selection at the NHL draft, scored his first WHL goal in Wednesday‚Äôs 4-0 victory over the Saskatoon Blades‚Ä¶Prince Albert is now down to 24 players after Antoine Corbin signed a professional contract with the Hamilton Bulldogs on Wednesday. Defenseman Zach Hodder is still on the injured list and Chance Braid was also on that list with an undisclosed injury, but he is back to full health and could dress tonight‚Ä¶ Prince Albert‚Äôs quick start has them ranked No. 6 in the entire Canadian Hockey League. Portland is No. 8 while the Kamloops Blazers are the highest-ranked WHL team at No. 3.