Michael Morgan: fleet of foot, powerful of beard.
Indeed, the mane of red magnificence that streams from his face is a source of pride for the 20-year-old North York Rangers forward; and for good reason.
“It’s deep,” said Morgan, who recently joined a monthly club for the facial hair successful.
“I am just passionate about the beard; it’s long and a little warm in the summer, but I think it’s worth it. I love the beard.”
Beards aside, there is a lot to like about the Markham native heading into the 2015-16 Ontario Junior Hockey League season. Morgan increased his point production from 29 in 13/14 to 46 in 14/15, and with the departure from the Rangers of the elite talents of Gabriel Valenzuela and Matthew Whittaker, a further step forward on the score sheet seems all but inevitable for the ginger speed demon.
That expectation, coupled with the reality of being an over-ager without a college commitment, is something that is clearly at the forefront of Morgan’s mind.
“Obviously I feel the pressure of it being my last eligible year in junior,” he said, “and I don’t know what I’m doing after that, so there’s some pressure there to perform.”
“But there’s also some motivation there. Obviously I scored a few more goals last year than I did in the past, though obviously not as many as I would have liked. I learned a lot about production from watching guys like Gabe Valenzuela and Matt Whittaker and so if I didn’t get to the numbers I might have wanted, I felt I learned a lot about how to accomplish that, and I feel confident that I can produce like that next year”
Leadership is also an element that the former Markham Major takes seriously. With Mark Joslin gone to coach the Aurora Tigers and mixed with the fact that North York is poised to have plenty of youth up front, Morgan’s strong locker room voice will likely be more than welcomed by new bench boss Brent Hughes.
That dynamic is something that is not new to him, however, as he spent his first two seasons in the league with generally youthful Stouffville Spirit teams.
“I have been on quite a few young teams,” said the well-spoken and reflective Morgan “and I find the one thing that separates what we have now, maybe from other younger groups, is that a lot of our younger guys have great character.”
“I feel like it is going to be a good year in that respect. I’m not too worried about who is leaving. Obviously it was great to be play with some of those guys and the club will obviously take a hit from losing them, but I think our character will make up for some of the loss in experience.”
On the ice, Michael is as explosively fast as anyone in the league – prompting the broadcasters with the Spirit to call him ‘kid flash’ when he played there – and he continues to add finesse elements to his game.
Morgan noted that learning from the similarly diminutive Gabriel Valenzuela was a big help.
“Yeah, it was honestly amazing playing with Gabe, watching him every game and practice,” he said.
“I learned a little bit about using my quickness from him. I find I used to tend to just try to beat guys with only straight-up speed, instead of explosive bursts. I learned that if you can kind of change speeds, start slow and then explode, you have a better chance to beat a guy one on one, especially if you can change direction quickly. Obviously there are some things that he did that I can’t exactly duplicate or copy, but it was really awesome to watch that guy play.”
Another element that excites the Rangers’ organization about Morgan is that he truly shone in the club’s post-season series with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens last year. He posted four goals and nine points over the hard-fought six-game series, and more than adequately played big minutes on the top line, in the absence of the suspended Whittaker.
Excellent character, a hunger to win, playoff pedigree, and an excellent beard; what more could NYR want in a leader?
– By Jamie Neugebauer