Joe Morrow says he’s never had a favorite National Hockey League team.
Odds are that will change today.
An 18-year-old defenseman, Morrow is one of three Portland Winterhawks projected as first-round selections today in the NHL Entry Draft. Forwards Sven Bartschi and Ty Rattie are also projected as first-round selections by most mock drafts.
The first round of the draft is today, and will be shown on the Versus network beginning at 4 p.m.
Early this week, Morrow said he was trying to stay busy and keep his mind off the draft. Today, will be at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. He said he doesn’t know who might call his name.
“It’s really tough to read what teams think of you,” Morrow said, reflecting on interviews with NHL teams during the recent NHL Prospects Combine.
Rounds 2-7 will be held on Saturday and shown on the NHL Network. Winterhawks defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon could be among the early picks on Day 2.
For the Winterhawks, this draft might not be quite as thrilling as last June’s edition. Nine Winterhawks were selected in 2010, with Ryan Johansen going No. 4 overall and Nino Niederreiter No. 5.
But, judging from mock drafts and from results of the recent NHL Scouting Combine, Portland players will be in demand. Bartschi is rated seventh among North American skaters, Morrow is 12th, and Rattie 17th according to NHL Central Scouting.
Bartschi was an unknown prospect at the start of his rookie season with the Winterhawks. He had 34 goals and 51 assists in 66 regular-season games, then was one of the team’s best players in the playoffs contributing 10 goals and 17 assists.
Rattie had 28 goals and 51 assists during the 2010-11 regular season and had nine goals and 13 assists in 21 playoff games.
To be eligible for selection, players must turn 18 by Sept. 15.
A native of Sherwood Park, Alberta, Morrow said he never had a favorite player, but looked up to his dad and older brother for inspiration. Dave Morrow was a fourth-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks in 1977. Josh Morrow was picked in the seventh round in 2002 by the Nashville Predators.
Joe Morrow’s father and brother didn’t get to play in the NHL. But Joe figures to have a good shot.
Morrow, Bartschi and Rattie each ranked among the top 10 in multiple physical tests at the combine, which included 100 of the top draft prospects.
Morrow said the combine was a good experience. He did especially well in several of the strength tests, and said several of the aerobic fitness tests were the most difficult.
He said the interviews with NHL teams were surprisingly low-key, but that he didn’t get an indication about which teams might draft him.
The combine might have helped Morrow’s draft stock, but it was his improvement over this season in Portland got him noticed by NHL scouts.
“I did everything I could through the season to improve,” Morrow said.
The result was steady progress to the point where he was one of the Winterhawks top defensemen down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Morrow had nine goals and 40 assists in 60 regular-season games in his third Winterhawks’ season, then produced six goals and 14 assists in 21 playoff games.
Morrow said the guidance from head coach Mike Johnston, assistant Travis Green, and the rest of the Winterhawks coaching and training staff put him on the best course to become a potential first-round draft pick.
And it didn’t hurt playing and training alongside so many 2010 draftees, including Johansen and Niederreiter.
“It gives you a lot more confidence,” Morrow said. “Having those guys around is a great example of what it takes, from practice habits straight through the games.”
IF YOU GO
• Winterhawks NHL Draft Party.
• 4 p.m. today
• Big Al’s, 16615 SE 18th St., in Vancouver.
• Hosted by Dean Vrooman and John Kirby.
• TV: 4 p.m. today on VERSUS (cable Ch. 32)