Last updated: March 16. 2013 7:09PM - 553 Views
By - tvenesky@timesleader.com

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For the first three months of the season Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defenseman Joseph Morrow was a combined minus-7.

During the first two months of 2013, the rookie blueliner has been on the positive side of things, posting a plus-3 heading into Friday's game.

So what changed?

I wouldn't say I changed anything, Morrow said.

It's more like he evolved.

The 21-year-old first round pick from 2011 came to the Penguins as a high-scoring defenseman in juniors. He tallied 144 points in 185 games during his last three seasons in juniors and established himself as a dominant player on the power play.

Morrow admits he felt the need to replicate that offensive success right away with the Penguins.

There's always that expectation when you come in as a power play guy, Morrow said.

But there was a difference. As a first-year pro, Morrow wasn't getting the gobs of power-play time he was accustomed to in juniors. His defensive play wasn't where it needed to be, and as a result his time with power play was limited.

Still, Morrow strived to put up points, even producing a hefty 21 shots in 10 games during December.

But before he would see regular power-play time, Morrow had to improve in another area.

Once I figured out that defense came first they gave me more opportunities, he said.

And that meant placing less emphasis on producing points and more emphasis on preventing them. Morrow learned that a good game isn't always defined by the amount of points one puts up on the scoresheet.

Points aren't necessarily everything as a defenseman, he said. You can have no points in a game, but it can be the best game of your life. Just because it doesn't show up on the scoresheet all the time doesn't mean you're not living up to your potential.

Lately, Morrow has been living up to his potential by proving he can be responsible in his own zone. Head coach John Hynes said Morrow is making better decisions with the puck and he understands the value of a simple, safe play.

You make more simple plays and sometimes the highlight play happens. He's learning to do that, Hynes said. At this point in the season, Joe's a more responsible, mature player.

Perhaps that was a big reason why Pittsburgh called him up on Feb. 10. Although Morrow didn't play in the 3-1 loss to New Jersey and was returned to Wilkes-Barre the next day, the call-up meant a lot.

I take a little confidence knowing I'm still on their mind and they view me as one of the top guys to call when there's a need, he said. They feel comfortable putting me in an NHL situation.

And that comfort comes from Morrow's improvement in the defensive zone and a plus-minus rating that has been on the positive side recently.

The fact that his plus-minus has improved means his overall game is a lot better, Hynes said. He's going to be a guy that gets points because of his talent level, but the thing we're excited about improving is his plus-minus and responsibility with his play.

For now, Morrow is back in Wilkes-Barre hoping the improvement continues and his next NHL shot is not too far off. He watched teammate Beau Bennett get the call on Thursday – a sign that the Pittsburgh organization is willing to reward its young players when they play well.

That's the ultimate goal for Morrow.

Pittsburgh takes pride in their young prospects and if you deserve the opportunity they're going to give it to you, Morrow said. They have a lot of trust in the young guys, and hopefully I can join Beau soon.

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