One thing I like looking into is a prospect who puts up ridiculous numbers in unconventional leagues for the top draft prospects. Last year, I looked at Veeti Miettinen — who chose to stay in Finland’s junior level last year to maintain his NCAA eligibility. He was clearly too good for the level, and set records for goals in the league.
In this year’s draft, Scott Morrow may be the next example of a highly talented prospect whose draft stock is hurt by his choice to play in a lesser league. Even if that choice was for logical (if unconventional) reasoning, the lack of certainty to know just how good he is against tougher competition can create some doubt about just how good he really is.
That’s led to the opinions on Morrow in the scouting community being pretty divided. Some scouting people say he could wind up being one of the highest ceiling defensemen in this draft, others see too many flaws that were already evident against high schoolers let alone more difficult competition. So is he a highly underrated defender who would be a first round lock if he played in the USHL all year, or is his stock actually inflated by playing against easier competition?
Personally, I was not able to watch any of his high school games, but I was able to see two of his playoff games in the USHL during the finals against the powerhouse Chicago Steel. That doesn’t give me great context to see the differences between how he looked between two different leagues and levels of competition, but I at least know how he looked in the highest level he played.
THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT
Unlike Miettinen, Morrow is not small: he’s 6’2” and 192 lbs, and as a right shot defenseman. He also had some silly numbers as a defenseman: 48 points in 30 games. That’s not just the best for a defenseman, that’s the second most points in the entire Minnesota high school league among any player — forward or defenseman. And the guy who finished ahead of Morrow played in 19 more games. Morrow’s 1.6 points per game pace was first in the league for players who played in at least 15 games... by a lot. The closest player to him had 1.31 points per game.
The big caveat is that it’s all against high school competition, which will inevitably make you question how good he might be but high schools in some states are not the worst league or level that players are drafted from. Some examples of current NHL players who spent half or more of their draft year in US high school include Casey Mittelstadt, Ryan Donato, Nick Bjugstad, Kevin Hayes, Brock Nelson, and Jake Gardiner.
Morrow did get into six USHL games during Fargo’s playoff run, where he had no points but by all accounts did look good. But this was a year where the pandemic made it harder to see players in person and on video (in the case of someone playing in, say, high school rinks). All draft eligible players this played fewer games than a normal year, some didn’t play at all. As a result, there is more uncertainty around most prospects this draft than usual. More than ever, this year’s rankings seem to favour players who actually played in more games and in more high profile leagues. If Morrow played half or more of his season in the USHL, he’d probably be ranked higher even if he didn’t have as many points.
But the thing is, Morrow reportedly chose to stay in high school in large part to stay closer to home for family reasons and because of the pandemic — the two are related but not necessarily the same. It wasn’t because he just wanted to avoid harder competition.
Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:
- Bob McKenzie: 36th (mid-season rankings)
- Will Scouch: 23rd
- Scott Wheeler: 33rd
- Elite Prospects: 52nd
- Dobber Prospects: 22nd
- Smaht Scouting: 23rd
THE GOOD: THE OFFENSE (ALL OF IT)
Simply put, Scott Morrow has a lot of exciting offensive skill for a defenseman. If you can think of a way that you want a defenseman to be good offensively, Morrow is probably good at it.
Skating? He has a great top speed, he has quick acceleration, he can maneuver suddenly and in tight spaces, he has very sound skating mechanics, and he uses crossovers to gain speed in all situations. The latter also helps his evasiveness, where defenders can’t square up to him to shut him down because he’s constantly changing his skating angles.
Here’s what Josh Tessler from Smaht Scouting says about his skating:
Morrow’s skating is quite strong. His foot extension is long, which allows him to take fewer strides when in transition. The recovery is not too wide, which is critical for strong mobility. His edges and crossovers are the main drivers for his acceleration and come in handy when navigating/stick-handling in the offensive zone.
Here are some good clips to showcase his skating in the USHL finals:
Here’s some clips of Scott Morrow @FargoForce (#24) from last night’s game— Dylan Krill (@dylan_krill) May 23, 2021
Looking like his usual self displaying high-level offensive skill, he actually played forward for a few shifts (clip 3)
He needs to clean up his defensive game, but he has top-4 potential#2021NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/HuEPGHPRk0
Puck handling? He is very clever with how he handles the puck. He uses a lot of fakes, dekes, shoulder dips, and other forms of deception to freeze defenders and make it harder for them to check him or the puck. It also helps him back them deeper into the offensive zone so he can get closer for a more dangerous chance, or to bait them into attacking so he can skate around them.
Passing? I’m just going to quote Will Scouch (written article at McKeen’s Hockey here that’s paywalled):
The real magic is his skill to open new passing lanes, and his ability to drive offense through playmaking and stepping into dangerous areas himself. People can question his choice of playing location, but this is a tall defender that dances around on the ice in ways I don’t see many defenders trying anywhere and having strong technique when getting creative. His projectability would only concern me if he was driving up the ice with little in the way of skill, speed, deception and mobility, which some prep players can get away with, but Morrow consistently displayed talents that stood head and shoulders above his competition when it came to evading pressure and moving pucks.
Even when dialing his motor back a bit, Morrow fundamentally has great pass vision and can spot options quickly, sending hard, crisp passes to recipients all over the ice, even if not in the offensive zone. Morrow can lead defenses into thinking he’s a shooting threat, only to quickly send a pass to an open linemate across the offensive zone and play like that indicates that Morrow is not only a good prep player, but rather a smart and crafty hockey player with projectable skills and processing ability.
You can also watch Will’s full video on Scott Morrow here:
You can see this in any clips of his from high school, where he just looks like a cat playing with its food.
Working on a Scott Morrow piece for @EPRinkside (coming soon). Check out this sequence on the blueline.— Daniel Gee (@DanielGScouting) February 20, 2021
-Baits, plans, and walks the first defender
-Moves into the dotted lines
-Inside deke to open space in the hashmarks
-Loses control but slot drive creates a HDC pic.twitter.com/jeB3U7W0tX
Offensive transitions? His combination of skating, puck handling and passing helps him excel here as well. He uses the same tricks and deception, plus skating and mobility, to evade pressure and get the puck up the ice and into the offensive zone with control. You can see some examples of that in the clips above.
Here’s what Daniel Gee from EP Rinkside (paywalled) says about his transition offense:
Morrow is a precise passer who can process breakouts and transport the puck with ease. This ability makes him adaptable in scenarios that require snap decision-making, using both the forehand and backhand to facilitate urgent north-to-south transitions. He incorporates the boards, can saucer the puck at any distance, incorporate one-touch breaks, and is supremely calm as forecheckers converge. With this ability, Morrow is somewhat of a dual-threat when it comes to transporting the puck up the ice. While he will have to adjust at higher levels to find a better balance between simple and dynamic, he should be a successful transition player in the NCAA and beyond
Why I have Scott Morrow in my top 20. pic.twitter.com/Fe0Vp8ORLB— Austin Brass (@BrassMaster418) May 15, 2021
The one thing he doesn’t really have is a slap shot from the point. He’s not going to be a guy who rips a hard one timer or snipes a goal from the point. He does have a good wrist shot, and he uses it more when he can get it off in close than from the point. That may be an issue for him at higher levels if his shot does not improve enough to be a credible threat, and better competition can just protect against his passing while ignoring his shot — this is what’s known in hockey circles as the Mitch Marner Dilemma(TM).
I can attest to most of the above points and quotes from what I saw in his USHL playoff games. He was one of, if not the best skater on the ice. I don’t think I ever saw him skate in a straight line when it wasn’t a race for a loose puck. With the puck he was a lot of fun to watch. He did help a lot with Fargo’s transition and did create some good scoring chances, even if he didn’t get any points.
Virtually every scout will admit that Scott Morrow is a good offensive defensemen. There may be some debate over how good, because of the level of competition he faced most of the year creates some doubt when projecting him to the NHL in the future. But everyone will acknowledge that he has a lot of upside from his offense alone.
THE FLAWS: INCONSISTENT DEFENSE
Now comes the contentious part of Scott Morrow. Even people who really like Scott Morrow will point to his defense as his biggest area of weakness. The debate that comes up is about the how’s and how much of his defensive flaws.
For example, in a few scouting profiles I’ve read about Morrow, they remark that he’s very aggressive defensively — both against transitions through the neutral zones, and in his own zone. But others, like Will Scouch in the same report I linked above, remark that statistically and visually he appears very passive on how he involves himself defensively.
What I can infer from that, combined with what I saw in his USHL games, is that he is very raw in his defensive ability and inconsistent in his effort. The games I watched, he did make some nice defensive plays in the neutral zone and defensive zone. But he did also seem indecisive and passive at other times. I chalked that up to him still adjusting to a much more difficult league, against the best team in the league in a playoff finals no less. But to read from Will Scouch — who is a big fan of Morrow’s and ranks him among the highest of any scouting people — that he was also noticeably passive even in high school is more worrisome.
Here is a good quote from Daniel Gee at EP Rinkside that I think also explains a bit of the differences of opinions on his defense:
What’s interesting is when Morrow faces transitional attacks and is unable to halt their momentum in the neutral zone. He’ll show passively, using his backwards crossovers carefully to move laterally in position. He actively keeps his feet more stable once the attacker is in range, using his stick to direct his opponents.
Morrow could do a much better job of driving his opponents to the sideboards. When he actively reaches and tries to poke the puck away, he limits his overall mobility and adaptability, allowing better puck handlers to beat him wide. He tends to move laterally but actually needs to collapse more and occupy his opponent’s attack-lanes better. Morrow also needs to be cognizant of his body positioning — facing away from the play is a recipe for disaster.
My takeaway from is that his defending is kind of all over the place. He has good technique and the tools to be a good defenseman, but his ability to take all of that and use it can be inconsistent and not always the most effective. On the one hand, that is a bit worrisome, but on the other hand it is also something that he could learn with good coaching and development.
It could be bad habits he learned from just being so much better than everyone else in high school that can be ironed out and improved over time. But many top prospects will never improve their defense enough to be average or above average defenders in the NHL once they’re facing the best of the best, even if their offense is good enough for them to excel at the highest level. This is the big worry with Morrow, and how high or low a scout ranks him overall is probably a good indication of how worried they are about that.
There are two prospects who Bob McKenzie has ranked in the second round that I am really excited about and hope either fall to the Leafs (unlikely), or Dubas acquires a higher pick somehow to take them. Scott Morrow is one, and Logan Stankoven is the other. I am all aboard the Morrow hype train.
In the second round, where Morrow seems likely to be taken, you’re likely looking at a guy who has upside... but also has noticeable flaws. The flaw could be that their skating, size, skill, defense, health, or something else significant just doesn’t seem good enough. Alex DeBrincat fell to the second because people were worried about his size and offense translating to a bigger, faster, and stronger league. Scott Morrow has some big question marks about his defense, which is why he may fall to the second round. He may also has some greater general doubt because he was not playing in a high profile league this year and because of general uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
But for me, I always swing on upside in the second round. Morrow has the offensive profile that could carry him to the NHL even if his defense always remains below average. As Leafs fans, we’re very familiar with the likes of Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly. But if he has that upside and enough tools to potentially develop into a better all-round defenseman? That’s exciting to me.
Next year he is committed to playing in the NCAA at UMass, which has a good program for developing defensemen: Zac Jones, Mario Ferraro, and maybe you’ve heard of this guy named Cale Makar? It’s a good school to take someone with his tools, help him refine his overall game, and turn him into an impact NHL defenseman after a couple of years.