January 11, 2016
TORONTO — The Maple Leafs wouldn’t have traded for forward Jeremy Morin if they believed he was just another minor-league hockey player, says assistant general manager Kyle Dubas.
Morin, who was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks organization on Jan. 3 in exchange for forward Richard Panik, sparked Dubas’ interest playing with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs. To the extent that the organization thinks he could push for a spot on the Leafs roster in the future after getting adjusted with some game action with the Marlies.
“We think he’ll be a key guy down the stretch and then hopefully open up some eyes up top and move him on to where his potential dictates,” said Dubas.
“We’re confident that his potential dictates that (the NHL) is where he should be, so it’s up to us to get him up there now.”
Morin, like Panik, was back in the minors to start the 2015-16 season after spending much of last year in the NHL. After being selected by the Atlanta Thrashers 45th overall in the 2009 NHL Draft, Morin was traded to Chicago in June 2010. The Blackhawks moved him to Columbus in December 2014 and then the Blue Jackets sent him back to Chicago in June 2015 as part of the Brandon Saad deal.
Both Dubas and Morin see the opportunity with the Marlies as a fresh start.
“(Trades) are part of the business, I’m used to it,” said Morin. “This is a good opportunity for me here, coming to a team like this I’m just hoping to produce.
“It’s very exciting, new chance for me personally to revamp my career here and make a good impression off the bat.”
Morin and Panik, both 24, had near-identical numbers and were in similar situations prior to the trade. They had some NHL experience as young players before eventually finding themselves back in the AHL with a bleak future with the organizations they were part of.
Morin, from Auburn, NY, had nine goals and 22 points in 28 games for Rockford and Panik had nine goals and 25 points in 33 games for the Marlies before the two were swapped.
One of the differences between the two is that Morin is a shooter while Panik is a playmaker. Morin, six-foot-one 196 pounds, has produced 3.13 shots on net per game in 236 AHL games. Panik, six-foot-one 208 pounds, has averaged 1.98 shots in 156 AHL games.
“He’s produced well at the AHL level, always has, generates a lot of shots, which is important to us,” said Dubas.
“Definitely I try to be a shooter first,” said Morin. “That’s how I build my game, pucks on net, going to the net hard, creating opportunities any time I’m on the ice.”
With point production being similar, Dubas says it wasn’t his belief in analytics or the underlying numbers that made him make the trade.
“More subjective things than anything quantitative at this point,” said Dubas. “The numbers analytically are very similar, just some subjective old-time hockey and scouting.”
Morin knew a trade was coming, but didn’t know to where, when he was pulled off the ice in Rockford’s game against the Iowa Wild back on Dec. 27. It’s unclear if Leafs management started discussions for Morin then, but seven days later he was on his way to Toronto with the goal of proving he’s NHL worthy.
“I want to work hard and show them I want to be (with the Leafs),” he said.
Panik was having a solid year with the Marlies, but management ultimately wanted a forward with higher potential. Dubas says Morin is that player.
“Over time Jeremy will be a better fit here with what we are trying to accomplish,” said Dubas. “He’s highly skilled, comes from a good organization and we think there’s a lot untapped there.”
Morin, a right-handed shooter who plays left wing, was a Mike Modano fan in his youth and hockey was a regular thing for his family growing up in New York — saying his Canadian father played a large influence.
The only member of the Toronto organization he really knows is centre Mark Arcobello, who he won bronze with this past summer at the world championships with Team USA.
In his first two games with the Marlies, Morin had a goal and two assists and six shots on net. Panik is expected to join the Blackhawks instead of Rockford.