PITTSBURGH - The good news is that defenseman Joe Morrow, the Pittsburgh Penguins' No. 1 draft pick, made a very favorable impression in training camp.
The even better news is that Morrow is back with his junior team.
Why is that good?
The answer is two-fold. It means the Penguins are solid enough on defense that they don't need to rush a rookie to the NHL, and it means Morrow will get more time to improve his game before he's called upon at the NHL level.
It isn't easy for an 18-year-old to step in and excel in the NHL, and it's even tougher for a defenseman to do that.
"It definitely takes a while," veteran Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said. "I was impressed with Joe, with the way he handled himself and handled everything in camp. You don't see that too often."
It's a huge jump from junior hockey to the NHL, but players with exceptional talent bridge that gap quickly.
The Penguins have plenty of examples, starting with Sidney Crosby. Jordan Staal did the same thing, playing well enough as a rookie to avoid a trip back to junior.
But they were forwards, not defensemen.
"If you make a bad mistake on defense, there's a chance you're going to be fishing the puck out of your net," Penguins assistant coach Todd Reirden said.
Reirden works with the Penguins defensemen. The ideal situation for a young defenseman is to get some time in the minor league system. The Penguins have an policy of playing the same system throughout the organization.
That means if a defenseman is called up from the minors, he knows exactly what his responsibilities are.
The only change is the skill level of the players and the speed of the game.
The size and strength of NHL players also requires an adjustment, but that gap seems to be closing a bit.
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek said he needed two or three NHL camps before he developed a comfort level. He now sees players like Morrow coming in and making the transition much more quickly.
"Guys come in at 18 years old, they're strong," Michalek said. "They're in great shape. Maybe I wasn't so well developed when I was 18."
Morrow is 6-foot-1 and just under 200 pounds. He doesn't have overwhelming size. But his skating skills impressed the Penguins, as did his poise in a new and challenging environment.
"We saw a lot of good things from him," coach Dan Bylsma said.
Morrow was especially impressive against a good Los Angeles Kings team in a pre-season game the Penguins played in Kansas City. Morrow got a longer look because defenseman Brooks Orpik was still recovering from off-season abdominal surgery.
He lasted in camp until the last roster cuts were made just before the season opened.
"He was very impressive," defenseman Ray Shero said.
The Penguins' top four defensemen are set: Martin, Michalek, Kris Letang and Orpik, when healthy.
The last two spots are up for grabs, although some combination of Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland and Matt Niskanen have been filling those roles.
There's a quality reinforcement at Wilkes Barre with Brian Strait, a former third-round pick who appeared in three NHL games last season. Simon Despres, another defenseman, is considered one of the Penguins' top prospects.
When training camp wound down, Morrow said his goodbyes to teammates before heading back to Portland and the Western Hockey League season.
He signed a three-year entry level deal with the Penguins, and players expect to see him back in Pittsburgh sooner rather than later.
"I look forward to seeing him play down the road," Martin said.
SUBHEAD: Question of the week
If "Dancing With The Stars" picked someone from the Penguins, who should it be?
-Craig Adams: "I would say Chris Kunitz. I like his moves."
-Pascal Dupuis: "Arron Asham. He's got the most moves. He would be perfect."
-Ben Lovejoy: "We lost our best dancer (referring to Max Talbot). If I had to pick a new dancer, I think Kris Letang is the guy. He often comes into the locker room shaking and I have the feeling he's been to a club or two in his day."
-Paul Martin: "I would love to see Marc-Andre Fleury. That would be good."
-Chris Kunitz: "Probably Matt Cooke. He's got some good moves and he likes to show them once in a while."
-Brent Johnson: "I would probably say myself. No. We have a couple of guys I've seen that can move. My favorite would probably be either Chris Kunitz or (Pascal) Dupuis."