Ray Shero shocked a large amount of Penguin fans, including yours truly, when he drafted two defensemen to kick off the 2011 NHL Entry draft. However, understanding Shero’s draft history and his penchant for selecting the best player available regardless of position, it really isn’t surprising that some offensive threats were overlooked in lieu of additionally fortifying of the backend.

There appeared to be some negative reactions to both selections strictly based on the fact that they were defensemen and not any semblance of help to our lack of organizational depth at wing. Below you’ll find some in-depth analysis of both picks which will hopefully allow you to draw your own conclusions about the Penguins first two selections of 2011.

#23 – Joe Morrow – D – Portland (WHL) – 6’1 – 198lbs – Shoots L – Dec. 9, 1992

I think a general overall view of Morrow’s entrance into the WHL and his experiences up to this point is due before we really dive into his current skill set and playing style.

Morrow didn’t register a single goal in his first year of WHL play in Portland. In fact, it took him quite awhile to adjust to the more physical style of play and bigger bodies he was encountering on a nightly basis. A back injury sidelined him for the majority of his sophomore season, and a nagging groin injury held him to limited minutes throughout the start of his 10/11 campaign in Portland.

Morrow admitted to Resurfacing The Ice that the number one thing he needed to work on upon his entrance to the WHL was his skating. Judging by his current abilities, you can tell it paid off. Morrow’s skating is extremely powerful and fluid and quite possibly might be his best attribute.

When it comes down to it, Morrow’s entire game might be based off of his wheels. He’s extremely adept at taking forwards one on one into the defensive zone, he can skate the puck out of danger when no outlet pass exists, and he can recover from a pinch with ease if he gets stuck up ice.

Defensively, Morrow might not be a specialist, but he’s adept in his own zone. He made vast improvements in his own zone as his health allowed this year. One notable aspect of Morrow’s defensive play is a recent added element of grit that was developed last year. Morrow, on several occasions, was generating scrums and dropping the gloves as the year went on.

A lot has been made of Morrow’s shot since he was drafted by the Penguins. On the night of the draft, I Tweeted that Morrow didn’t particularly have what one would traditionally consider a “great” shot, which caused at least one other blogger to take a shot at me, posting a quote from the Penguins staff about Morrow’s ability getting the puck to the net, simply describing it as “good.”

Well, since we all know that “good” doesn’t really give us insight into anything whatsoever, I figured I’d take the opportunity to expound on that claim a bit before we move forward.

Morrow’s shot is certainly a cannon, but that being said, he’s also extremely slow with getting it off and can be a bit hesitant with firing the puck.

Is that a bad thing? It can be. I don’t think it affected his production in a negative fashion. I found the perfect word for Morrow’s shot when I was talking via phone with Hockey Future’s own Mike Farkas. Farkas used my description of Morrow’s shot and came up with the term “deliberate.” I think that suits him accurately. It’s almost as if he takes off his glove, licks his finger, and sticks it in the air to gauge the wind before he winds up.

Again, being a deliberate shooter like that has it’s perks. Morrow rarely misses the net. You don’t see him on the point firing away with his head down. However, as the competition he’s sure to encounter on his way to the NHL increases, the time he can take before teeing it up is going to decrease exponentially. Morrow needs to hone that cannon and work on getting his shot off a bit quicker before he ascends to the next level.

One additional note, and we alluded to this on Twitter, there possibly wasn’t a better defenseman in the 2011 WHL playoffs. Morrow was free and clear of any nagging groin issues and his exemplary skill was on display in crunch time. I haven’t seen a defenseman post 19 points in 20 playoff games since Kris Letang dominated a run to the Presidents Cup in the QMJHL.

We specifically had Morrow listed at #29 overall. There are a few key aspects that we need to watch him next year as he develops. For starters, how does he handle the rigors of a full WHL season and can he stay healthy? There is a bit of a reputation there of being “injury prone” that can be shaken with a healthy year of play. Also, we’ll need to see how Morrow continues to play in his own zone and if he can become even more of a defensive specialist.

In short, don’t be discouraged with this pick because Morrow isn’t a winger. He’s certainly capable of thrusting himself into the mix of solid defensemen in the system. Additionally, remember that Ray Shero turns puck moving defensemen into Chris Kunitz and James Neal. Not that we’re advocating a trade of Joe Morrow, but Shero is certianly a magician, and it appears puck moving defenseman are the hat he pulls wingers out of.