On Friday, the Chicago Blackhawks made a couple of roster moves to shake things up on the West Side, bringing up Jeremy Morin and Brad Mills from Rockford and placing defenseman Mike Kostka on injured reserve.
Out of the duo of IceHogs that made their way to Chicago for Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Wild, most eyes were on Morin, who made a big impression during the preseason with his solid play and hustle at both ends of the ice. In the end though, the Hawks decided to keep Joakim Nordstrom because of his ability to contribute fourth line minutes and to potentially be the guy that would replace Michael Frolik on the penalty killing unit (spoiler: he wasn’t).
When the puck dropped on Saturday, it seemed as though that demotion was a burr under Morin’s saddle, as he came out of the gate firing on all cylinders. On his very first shift of the evening, Morin jumped into a battle for the puck along the boards, and when the Wild skated it out to center ice, it was Morin who pulled off a nice bit of back-checking and stole the puck.
It wasn’t an isolated moment for Morin either, as he continued to aggressively hound puck carriers for the rest of the evening. His nose for defense wasn’t limited to stick-checking either. He ended up throwing his weight around quite a bit during the game, including two hits on Jason Pominville and Clayton Stoner that drew applause from the United Center crowd.
There were less subtle ways that Morin chipped in too. On plays where the Hawks’ defensemen pinch in, a forward has to head back to the point to prevent odd man rushes, and Morin seemed perfectly content to fill that role. He circled the zone quite a bit during his shifts, and that movement of forwards and blue liners seemed to get the Wild out of their comfort zone a bit during the second period, and when Nick Leddy found Bryan Bickell in the slot, the Hawks got a goal out of it.
Morin also moved well without the puck on the sequence before that goal when he stole the puck at the blue line, and then drove in on goal and forced Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom to make a scrambling save. The ensuing fracas ended up with the puck in the back of the net, but Morin wasn’t able to get on the scoresheet, as Andrew Shaw had hit the puck with a high stick before it found its way into the goal.
Even without that statistical validation of his evening, all of these tendencies and traits that Morin showed on Saturday night should be a good sign for the Hawks moving forward. Some offensively gifted forwards don’t appreciate the way that the Hawks like to do business defensively, with back-checking placing a big burden on guys who are more used to scoring goals than preventing them.
To his credit though, Morin seemed to embrace those concepts, and really did a good job of showing the coaching staff that he’s ready to play ball, no matter the situation. Now, the question will be whether it is a long-term sustainable trend, or if it was a one-time thing for a guy whom the coaching staff has never been particularly enamored with.