He’s not predicting when, where or how much, but St. John’s IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge says Josh Morrissey and Eric Comrie, “will get the opportunity to play” now that the two teenagers have reported to the American Hockey League team.
Morrissey, a 19-year-old defenceman, and Comrie, an 18-year-old goaltender, were the Winnipeg Jets’ first- and second-round picks, respectively, in the 2013 National Hockey League Entry Draft, and are viewed as being among the top prospects in all of major junior hockey.
The IceCaps (41-22-5) are fairly close to clinching a playoff berth for the Calder Cup playoffs beginning later this month, but are also looking to maintain at least a top-four finish in the AHL’ s Eastern Conference so as to gain home-ice advantage in the first round of the postseason.
However, when asked how the IceCaps’ position in the standings might affect his use of Morrissey and Comrie, McCambridge would not be pinned down. He also noted there were other factors to be considered
“I can’t commit to that with how its going to play out,” he said. “For one thing, you never really know how what your roster’s going to look like.
“A couple a days ago, we were looking at having three goalies. Now, it’s two. We had eight defenceman on our last road trip and we came back with six,” said McCambridge referring to the recent recalls of goalie Michael Hutchinson and defencemen Ben Chiarot to the Jets,
“But, from my point of view, we’ve added two really strong players to our roster. They’re a first-round pick and a second-round pick, so they obviously are high-quality players and they will get the opportunity to play.”
The Jets, IceCaps and McCambridge do have a history of ensuring top prospects arriving from junior at this time of year see considerable playing time — Mark Scheifele appeared in 10 playoff games for St. John’s in 2012, while fellow forward Adam Lowry got into nine regular-season contests last spring.
Morrissey, who turned 19 Friday, had an outstanding season with the Western Hockey League’ Prince Albert Raiders, leading all WHL rearguards with 28 goals and 73 points and is the Eastern Conference nominee for the junior league’s defenceman of the year award.
The Calgary native has a reputation for leadership — he was the Prince Albert captain this season— and smarts, on and off the ice. He was the Canadian Hockey League’s Scholastic Player of the Year in 2012-13 after maintaining a 92.4 average in his Grade 12 studies.
The six-foot, 185-pound blueliner also played for Canada at the most-recent world junior hockey championship, scoring a goal and adding two assist in seven games.
“He’s an outstanding skater, really smooth,” said McCambridge, who got an up-close look at Morrissey during the Jets’ prospects camp last year. “His puckhandling skills are at a real high level. Obviously, the offensive side is in his game, but from what I’ve seen, he can also play a two-way game.
“Here’s a guy who can come in and help with the offensive side and possibly we can see where he fits on special teams.”
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Morrissey, the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft, handled big minutes for the Raiders this past season, but McCambridge said that could be the basis for his biggest adjustment to the pros.
“The thing for guys coming up from the junior ranks, the ones who are 27-, 29-minute guys, is that they pace themselves at the junior level because of how much ice time they get, whereas in the American league, at the professional level, there always has to be tempo to your game.
“It’s not a matter of trying to make sure the pace of your game is at a certain point so you can manage the minutes you’re given.
“It’s making sure your A to B is at a real high intensity all the time, every shift.
“They can’t pick their spots here.”
Comrie was the 59th overall pick of the last Entry Draft, but probably would have gone higher had he not underwent season-ending surgery on both his hips in January of 2013.
The operations and resulting down time certainly didn’t affect him this season.
The Edmonton native — who is the half-brother of former NHLers Mike and Paul Comrie — played 60 games with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, posting a 26-25-9 record, 2.57 goals against average and .925 save percentage that ranked second amongst all league goaltenders. He’s seen as a leading candidate to play for Canada at the next world junior championships.
“First impression is that he’s a strong technical goalie and that he’s really dialled into the game. He really switches gear and looks driven,” said McCambridge.
With Hutchinson in Winnipeg and Jussi Olkinuora having been returned to the Ontario Reign of the ECHL, the six-door, 175-pound Comrie is one of two netminders on the St. John’s roster, the other being Tyler Beskorowany.
“With the goalie situation here, we’ll see how it plays itself out here,” said McCambridge, “but we’d like to get him (Comrie) some games also.”
The IceCaps play Friday night when they begin a six-game homestand, their last one of the regular season, as they take on the Springfield Falcons in the first of back-to-back games at Mile One Centre.
Morrissey has been assigned jersey No. 6, while Comrie gets 30. Both have already been signed to entry-level NHL deals with the Jets, but will operate under amateur try-out deals with St. John’s.
“I got a chance to talk to them today,” said McCambridge Tuesday. “They’re both really good kids and they’re excited to be here.
“That’s a great way to start.”