When Philadelphia Flyers fans envision the team’s defense for next season, usually the lone prospect to make the jump is Ivan Provorov. As reigning CHL Defenseman of the Year with an excellent World Junior showcase under his belt, plus the pedigree of being a seventh overall pick, Philly – or the fans at least – have penned Provorov into the opening day lineup.
While that decision is still up in the air, Flyers fans have skipped over the other defense prospects for the most part. Travis Sanheim will be entering his first professional season and it would be hard to imagine GM Ron Hextall creating a space for him on the Philadelphia blue line – or that he’ll earn one. Lehigh Valley will be Sanheim’s home next season.
Same for Robert Hagg, who stagnated and maybe even declined in his sophomore campaign with the Phantoms last year. He went from 20 points in 2014-15 to 11 last season and was a healthy scratch on occasion by coach Scott Gordon. However, he did finish strong and isn’t out of the Flyers’ picture yet.
But for Samuel Morin, the mostly forgotten first-round pick from 2013, his rookie season with the Phantoms can be chalked up to a success and as one of the oldest among the Flyers’ blueline prospects, he may have the best shot at a place in Philadelphia.
It wasn’t that long ago that Morin was seen as the savior of the Flyers’ defense. Chosen 11th overall in the 2013 Draft, his 6-foot-7 frame and mean streak immediately drew comparisons to former Flyer Chris Pronger, who had his career shortened in 2011-12 due to concussions.
After a 2013-14 season spent with the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL (his third), where Morin put up a career-high 31 points, TSN’ Bob McKenzie reported that Philadelphia was trying to move one of its veteran defensemen to make room for the 19-year-old at the end of training camp.
— theScore (@theScore) October 3, 2014
It’s important to remember that this was Hextall’s first season as a GM and his mantra of easing prospects into the NHL wasn’t as instilled as it is now. Whether cooler heads prevailed or a deal could never be worked out, Morin was sent back to Rimouski for his fourth and final junior season.
But the 2014–15 season changed the view of Morin for most Flyers fans. The team drafted Travis Sanheim at the 2014 Draft and within months became the golden child of the prospect pool.
While Morin’s point totals increased by just a single point in 2015, Sanheim established himself as a legitimate offensive defenseman with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. The Manitoba-native improved by 36 points between his draft year and draft plus-one year.
If that wasn’t enough, Philadelphia chose Provorov at that June’s draft and fans began speculating whether the Russian could make the team out of camp. Morin was going to the Phantoms and no one thought otherwise.
Morin in Lehigh Valley
The thing is, no one should have thought otherwise about Morin playing in the AHL. It takes longer for a defensive defenseman to adjust to the NHL and the Flyers had no problem giving him time to adjust.
And Morin kept a level head about playing in the AHL and realized it was a blessing as he told Dave Isaac:
I’m very happy that I’ve got two good options with the Phantoms or Flyers. I think it’s good for me. For sure, we always want to be in the highest level and I want to play in the NHL. I gotta work hard for this.”
- Samuel Morin, Dave Isaac – 97.3 ESPN
Morin went through the struggles of a first professional season as most players do. While he’s a good puck-mover, he made mistakes from time to time.
But the important thing is that he improved as time went on. By the end of the season Morin was a fixture on the Phantoms’ penalty kill and even earned some minutes on the second power play unit.
For Morin, he now has to build on that and begin to earn a spot when training camp, preseason and the regular season starts over the next month.
The one thing Hextall has made clear is that no prospect will have a spot waiting for them with the Flyers. They’ll have to beat out a veteran player to earn a place on the roster.
The defense clearly reflects that with seven d-men with NHL experience. If Provorov, Morin or anyone else wants a spot they’ll have to force the Flyers’ hand in making a trade.
Morin is at the Flyers rookie camp right now trying to make an impression on the Philadelphia brass. But it won’t matter much. He won’t earn a spot out of camp.
Hextall has stated before that the team will judge a whole body of work, not just a training camp in determining if a player is ready for the NHL. Morin proved last season that he still needed some time for seasoning.
So he’ll start with the Phantoms in October, but that’s really when Morin’s resume to make the Flyers begins. It will be up to Morin to shine with a more veteran defense corps surrounding him in Lehigh Valley.
He’ll still get penalty kill time, but may not see power play minutes, which is okay. Morin will never be a power play specialist and will need to ply his trade in the right circumstances.
For Shayne Gostisbehere, an injury opened up his chance in Philly. But even that came after a strong showing in the AHL.
It may be an injury, or a trade, that opens up a spot for Morin, if it’s not just strong play in general. Either way, this has to be the season that Morin starts making Flyers fans remember his name.
Wes Herrmann graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2014. He used to write hockey for Cardiac Cane and Broad Street Buzz and has loved the game since birth. Follow him on Twitter at @Wes_Herrm or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org