Kevin Fortier follow me on Twitter @ksfortier
For many years, the Philadelphia Flyers have had a blueline almost entirely made up of free agents and trades. There was virtually zero organic growth on the backend year after year. This resulted in an older and much more expensive defense corps compared to teams that cultivated organic growth via the draft.
In the salary cap era, this approach makes it much more difficult to build a roster that is strong on both ends of the ice and caused the Flyers to continually bump up against the cap. This left little room to make in-season roster adjustments due to injuries or desired changes.
Since 2013, the Flyers through the draft and by signing an undrafted free agent, have been developing three towering defense prospects. Each of the three players stands at least 6’4” and weigh over 200 pounds.
In 2013, the Flyers used the 11th overall pick in the first round of the draft to select Sam Morin, a hulking defenseman playing in the QMJHL of Canadian Hockey League.
(Sam Morin page view from eliteprospects.com)
Flyers Paul Holmgren announces the selection of Sam Morin as the Flyers 11th overall selection in the 2013 NHL draft.
(Video Credit: NHL Network)
Now standing a towering 6’7” and weighing 227 pounds Morin is a monster on the ice. He was a surprise selection by the Flyers as he was not ranked in the top 25 at the time. The Flyers saw his potential though and after the selection, many were referring to Morin as another Chris Pronger. A big, strong defenseman with a serious snarl to his game.
In his draft year, Morin’s scored 4 goals and 12 assists with a plus 10 rating over 46 games. His stats were not eye-popping and contributed to the questions of why he was selected so high in the draft by the Flyers.
In his D +1 season, Morin’s performance improved. He posted 7 goals and 24 assists with a +12 rating in 54 games. He seemed more comfortable in his role on the ice. He also added about ten pounds of muscle to his lanky frame in the off-season which seemed to help him in board battles and strengthened his skating strides.
In his D +2 season, Morin missed some significant time due to injuries and he was limited to just 38 games. His production however improved in per game totals posting 5 goals and 27 assists in his limited time and he posted a plus 26 rating.
He also made Canada’s WJC U20 team playing in 7 games. Team Canada won the gold medal that tournament. Morin was held pointless, but the time playing against the worlds best players and winning a gold medal was tremendous experience for his continued growth as a player.
Morin’s Rimouski team made the QMJHL playoffs each season he was there and his playoff production was on par with the regular season. In his draft season, he posted 1 goal and 6 assists in 6 playoff games. In his D +1 season he scored 4 goals and 4 assists in 11 games and in his D +2 playoffs he produced 1 goal and 10 assists posting a plus 10 rating in 18 games.
(Sam Morin stats in CHL and AHL)
In 2015, he made the transition to the professional level joining the Flyers AHL affiliate in Lehigh Valley following his D +2 season at the age of 20. He played the full season for the Phantoms posting 4 goals and 15 assists in 76 games. It was respectable production for a 20-year-old defenseman. Especially a big kid still growing into his body.
(Video Credit: NHL.com/Flyers)
He mostly played a pretty simple game on the ice not trying to do too much as he continued to learn and improve his game. The coaches liked him and his snarl and mean streak made him an instant fan favorite. He was more than willing to drop the gloves and he usually demolished his opponents.
He was also learning to use his size to his advantage in keeping forwards to the outside on rushes as well as using his stick to break up plays and clear out the crease. Especially on penalty kills.
In 2016/2017, his second year with the Phantoms, he saw similar production while he continued to hone his game. He posted 3 goals and 15 assists over 74 games that season.
He nearly made the Flyers out of camp that pre-season, but the Flyers had a glut of free agent defensemen signed to contracts that would not make them attractive to most teams.
In the 2017/2018 camp, Morin was determined to make the Flyers and he was expected to do so as there were two openings on the blueline with the departures of Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto. Morin was expected to fill the first opening with Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim fighting over the second spot.
Morin scores on a bomb in pre-season game against the Rangers.
Sam "Offensive Dynamo" Morin pic.twitter.com/G3KwHWIvV7
— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) September 26, 2017
Morin played well in camp, but it was Hagg who stood out the most and secured the first roster spot. Morin seemed to have the second slot, but an injury to Gostisbehere caused the Flyers to keep Sanheim up for the road trip and he ended up playing over Morin.
Morin struggled with injuries and was sent back down to Lehigh Valley. He only played 15 games that season for the Phantoms. He finally returned as the Phantoms made a run in the AHL playoffs playing in three games in the second round against Charlotte, but he, unfortunately, tore his right ACL in the first period of game four causing him to miss the rest of the playoffs and all of the 2018/2019 season to date.
Morin was taken off LTIR last last month and was sent to the Phantoms for a three game conditioning stint.
He has been a healthy scratch since returning to the Flyers until Wednesday night when he made his debut versus Toronto. It was Morin’s 4th career NHL game. He had 3 hits and 3 blocks in a little over 8 minutes of ice time.
Flyers coach Scott Gordon said Tuesday that he wanted to get Morin into 5 of the remaining 6 games for the Flyers going into Wednesday night’s game. With Morin looking fine on the ice, it is likely he will adhere to that goal.
Without question, Morin will use the remaining time and the summer to strengthen his body and push himself to ensure he is 100% ready to push for a full-time roster spot for the Flyers this fall.
Morin has 2 years remaining on his current contract with the Flyers.
There are no UFA defensemen this upcoming summer to make room for Morin. Provorov and Sanheim are RFAs and will be re-signed.
However, it is possible that the Flyers would be willing to retain salary to move MacDonald or buyout his contract to save cap dollars and make room for Morin on the roster in the fall.
It is highly unlikely that any of Provorov, Sanheim, Gostisbehere, Hagg, Gudas or Myers would not return in the fall, therefore the only potential opening on the blueline would be if the Flyers decided to move on from MacDonald.
Feature Photo Credit – Derik Hamilton