Brad Morrison knows the lay of the land in Prince George Cougar country.
Like his dad Doug, a former Boston Bruin, and his older brother Curt, a scoring star for the Spruce Kings a few years ago, Brad was born in the city and played most of his minor hockey here. At 16, Brad is now a veteran of two Western Hockey League training camps and he's gotten to know the Cougar veterans who already have their positions sewn up.
Now it's up to Morrison to prove he belongs as a WHL left winger. So far he's been quite convincing.
"I like him, he's a nifty kid with high-end skill and he sees the ice really well," said Cougars head coach Mark Holick. "He's a creative offensive-type player and he wants to score goals. He's small and really slight [five-foot-11, 151 pounds] but that doesn't seem to hurt him because he's pretty quick."
Morrison played six games for the WHL Cougars last season, one more than is normally allowed for 15-year-olds because his sixth game came after his Cariboo Cougars major midget team was eliminated from playoffs.
"It's good to be familiar with the city and the people with the team, knowing the guys helps a lot when you're a 16 year old coming on the team," said Morrison. "You have to play with confidence and kind of expect to make the team and I think that will help a lot. I think my chances are pretty good."
Morrison will showcase his game-time talents this weekend when Cougars open the preseason in St. Albert with games Saturday morning against the Red Deer Rebels and Sunday morning against the Medicine Hat Tigers.
"I'm pretty excited to go down to Edmonton and play a couple exhibition games," said Morrison, a 20-goal, 50-point guy in 38 major midget games last season. "It probably won't be as fast as an actual league game but it's good prep for the season. The players are bigger and stronger and it's a lot harder than midgets but as long and you focus on playing your own game it all works itself out."
The Cougars picked Morrison seventh overall in the 2012 bantam draft, after they'd taken centre Jansen Harkins with the second-overall selection. The two forwards played against each other last season in the B.C. Major Midget League, while Harkins was a member of the Vancouver Northwest Giants. They also played together on the B.C. Under-16 team, which won gold in November 2012 at the Western Canada Challenge Cup tournament and more recently shared the same ice in Calgary at the Team Pacific under-17 summer tryout camp in July.
"I've had lots of chances to play with Brad the past year and it's definitely better playing with him than against him," said Harkins.
Both should see significant playing time this weekend.
"I'm excited to get going, we had the intrasquad game [Monday] and it was a lot of fun," said Harkins. "Brad and me are definitely ready to take some weight on this team. We've been playing well in camp and hopefully we'll get some opportunities to prove ourselves to the best of our abilities this year."
Harkins, who finished fifth in BCMMHL scoring last year with 14 goals and 45 assists for 59 points in 38 games, has above-average size for a 16 year old, at six-foot-one, 170 pounds. So far, Holick says he's lived up to expectations.
"He's big and strong and he's very intelligent, he very seldom makes the wrong decision," said Holick. "He shoots the puck well, he's highly skilled, and he's going to be a big man when he grows into that frame. To me, he's a [James] Van Reimsdyk type of player."
The weekend games will give the Cougars a look at how their other 16-year-olds -- F Aaron Boyd, D Tate Olson and G Matt Kustra handle the life in the frying pan. Olson, an offensive-minded D-man, scored two goals in the one preseason game he played for the Cats last year before he was sent to the triple-A midget Saskatoon Contacts. He missed a few games with a knee injury but still managed seven goals and nine assists in 29 games.
"I'm just trying to work hard and listen to the coaching and try to put that into the games," said the six-foot-two, 172-pound Olson. "I've gotten to meet the guys and I'm more comfortable on the ice and more confident."
n The four Cougars bound for NHL camps next week won't be traveling to St. Albert. F Klarc Wilson leaves for the New York Rangers camp on Monday, draft picks D Marc McNulty (Detroit Red Wings) and F Zach Pochiro (St. Louis Blues) will head out Tuesday and F Troy Bourke (Colorado Avalanche) is on his way to Denver next Friday. Twenty-year-old G Mac Engel will also remain in Prince George this weekend.