Is this a make-or-break season for Jeremy Morin in Chicago?
If Jeremy Morin underwhelms in training camp and the preseason, what does that mean for his future with the Blackhawks?
The road to getting a real crack at the lineup with the Chicago Blackhawks has been bumpy for Jeremy Morin. One of the prospects acquired after the Great Salary Dump of 2010, Morin has constantly been blocked by a logjam of forwards, and nary given an opportunity to succeed by head coach Joel Quenneville when he has been up with the big club.
Heading into the offseason, most anticipated that Morin would be cut loose by the Blackhawks and seek out regular playing time with another club. However, he re-upped with the team on a two-year pact, likely with some sort of promise that he'd receive a fair shake next season. With no Brandon Bollig, there's likely to be an opening in the bottom six, and a trade of someone like Bryan Bickell or Kris Versteeg (however unlikely) could open up another.
Regardless of how the lineup shakes out, Morin is going to have a chance to impress. He's shown flashes of being a very capable player when he's in the lineup. He has great offensive touch and a good shot, with an ability to play the physical game. His specific skill set could make him an asset in the bottom six. He finished the season with 11 points, including five goals, in 24 games last year, with a plus-5 rating. Eight of those points came in April, where that skill set really came out on display.
Heading into camp, Morin will likely be competing with the likes of Peter Regin for playing time on that fourth line, probably next to Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith. Given the success of that unit last year, and the heavy usage it's seen under Quenneville, Morin could have an opportunity for success. However, he'll be battling Regin, who is coming off of a very good postseason (however limited his time was), and potentially Brandon Mashinter if the team feels that a facepuncher is necessary on the fourth line. So while he will be afforded an opportunity go grab regular playing time, he still has his work cut out for him.
The thing about Morin is that his game could play well anywhere. He could get some time up in the top six, perhaps next to Jonathan Toews at some point on the top line. He could grab third line minutes if his defensive game continues to improve and Versteeg continues to disappoint. It's a matter of avoiding poorly timed penalties and continuing to demonstrate the ability to generate offense that he flashed toward the end of the year.
There's certainly a question to be asked as to what happens if Morin cannot crack the lineup regularly coming out of training camp and the preseason, especially if Quenneville favors others (like Regin) for his spot in the lineup. A trade would most likely come into play here, as a team would presumably jump at the chance to give him a real opportunity in their lineup. Additionally, him spending time in the press box would stunt his development, which is obviously something the Hawks would probably like to avoid.
At the end of the day, what it all comes down to is that this is Morin's time to take advantage of an opportunity and roll with it. It's going to be on him to force his way into the lineup. If he continues to demonstrate an improving two-way game, and avoids his apparent penchant for bad penalties, there's really no reason why he'll be held out of the lineup. Of course, we'll have to wait until the preseason before Morin, and those around him, begin to dictate the lineup.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.