Last updated: February 19. 2013 7:00PM - 211 Views

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Joe Morrow really doesn't like the view from the stands. He hates it so much that he shakes.

Morrow even said watching a game from the stands is depressing.

As a star in the Western Hockey League the last three years, Morrow never sat out.

But in his first season as a pro, the 19-year-old rookie sat out three times this season and he is adamant about not letting it happen again.

It's never fun sitting in the stands watching your team play. It's a little depressing, he said. I just kind of sit there and shake – not that it's cold, but I just want to be on the ice.

It happens, but I never want it to happen to me again.

To make sure that he isn't a healthy scratch again, Morrow and the Penguins coaching staff are working on other parts of his game to make him a well-rounded defenseman. When he was drafted in the first round by Pittsburgh in 2011, everyone knew Morrow could put up points.

Now he's showing the organization he can be sound defensively and play physical as well.

His last two seasons in juniors with Portland produced some astounding numbers to the tune of 26 goals and 113 points in 122 games. But just two months in to his first pro season, Morrow isn't afraid to turn his focus away from offense to work on other areas.

The offensive side of things came naturally to me. I didn't have to work hard on those, and if I put it on the backburner it's always going to be there, he said. I really need to focus on my defense and everyone's been working with me a lot on that. The couple months I've been here I think I've made more progress in my defensive game than I did in all four years of my junior career.

And that recent progress is what has helped Morrow avoid being a healthy scratch of late.

In his first eight games with the Penguins, Morrow posted a minus-4 rating and sat out the next two games. Since appearing in the last five contests, Morrow's plus-minus rating is even as he shows he can contribute in ways other than putting points on the board.

In juniors, it was easy for offense to be his sole focus, Morrow said, as he frequently played all two minutes of a power play and was on the ice for as many as 35 minutes per game.

It was almost hard for me not to get points because I was so involved, he said.

But here I'm really working in the defensive aspect of things. There's no pressure on me to get points.

Defense isn't the only area that Morrow and the Penguins coaching staff on working on together.

The physical side has been another focus of late. Morrow said a defenseman who can't play physical is at a significant disadvantage when it comes time for a call-up. Physicality is a part of hockey, he said, and playing tough is an attribute that can get him to the NHL.

Morrow's done it pretty well this season and, with one exception, hasn't hurt his team in the process. Other than the Oct. 21 game against Syracuse when he was given a boarding major, the only other time that Morrow put his team on the penalty kill was on Nov. 17 against Hershey when he was whistled for a tripping minor.

As long as you pay attention to your positioning and not running around looking for a hit, you can be effective physically, Morrow said. The coaching staff here and the guys from Pittsburgh that come in are all working with me on different phases, and right now being a little more physical and ending plays is what we're working on.

Even in juniors, Morrow wasn't a stranger to the rough stuff. He had 99 penalty minutes with Portland of the WHL last season, along with 13 fights over the last two years, according to dropyourgloves.com.

Morrow's physical upside doesn't surprise Penguins coach John Hynes.

He's a strong kid who played in the Western league so he's had his experience fighting and playing against tough players, Hynes said. He comes from a tough league.

And being tough may be what makes Morrow the well-rounded blueliner that Pittsburgh wants when the NHL season resumes.

That's the area we're working on with him and he has the tools to be a tough player to play against, Hynes said. Now it's getting himself to do that on a game-by-game basis.

With the NHL lockout ongoing, it seems like years ago when Morrow came to Pittsburgh's camp as an 18-year-old who surprised many and almost made the NHL club, remaining until some of the last cuts were made.

But that was only last year, and even though the lockout has temporarily taken away the chance to go up, Morrow said he is still preparing for the day when the opportunity arises.

It's going to happen at some time. The NHL isn't just going to disappear, Morrow said. I've made some big strides here and I just have to keep improving so I'm ready when the time comes.

Such an approach will also help Morrow avoid the place he likes the least on game nights – the stands – a place that makes him shake with anticipation to be back on the ice.

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