Morin Learning to Keep it Simple

Thursday, January 14, 2016
Sam Morin slides into the empty net to block a rebound shot during a game against Providence earlier this season. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News
It's hard to watch a Lehigh Valley Phantoms game and not notice rookie Sam Morin. He is, after all, the towering defenseman that stands 6-foot-7. 

While his game is predicated on using his size to his advantage, Morin skates quite well for his size. Through the first half of his rookie season he's rounding out his game - becoming a two-way threat on the Phantoms' back end. The Flyers' 1st round pick (11th overall) in 2013 is still getting accustomed to the pro game, but according to those within the organization it's so far so good for the 1st year pro.

"I think he’s come a long way from the start [of the season]," Phantoms assistant coach Riley Cote said of Morin's progression. "I don’t think he understood or knew what to expect in the pro game. I think he’s grasped it from day one and [his game] is continuing to grow, so that's good."

It wasn't a seamless transition for Morin when he first came onto the pro scene with Lehigh Valley earlier this fall, as Cote explained in a recent 1-on-1 interview after practice this week.

"I think at the start of the year he was kind of seeing [Gostisbehere] getting points and him not," Cote said. "You’re not Ghost," he recalled telling him earlier this season. "Ghost has his skill set and you have yours. Do what you can do the best – using his size and reach and all of that stuff to his advantage."

Morin took his coaches advice and focused on playing a simple, defense-first game. Earlier this season, he seemed almost timid with the puck on his stick at times and conservative when the decision to jump up and join the rush up ice came about.

Not anymore. After just one goal and one assist through his first 22 games, Morin is becoming more confident with the puck on his stick. His ability to defend more is leading to more play in the offensive zone, as Morin has 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in his last 17 games.

"I think its confidence," Morin attributed his recent scoring success to. "My offensive game is better than it was in the beginning of the season. One thing the coach told me when you have the puck you need to move your feet. You can't stand still because guys are good [here] and going to come at you fast. When you have the puck you need to skate, protect the puck and find the good passing lane. That's what I'm working on."

Cote broke it down a with much more detail when explaining Morin's growth in his all-around game this season:
Sam has done a good job of finding his way by keeping it simple, not doing anything spectacular or out of his skill range. I think for him, it’s simplifying the game – making the good first pass, using his size and his reach/range to defend. Playing hard, when he has an opportunity to shoot the puck getting it off quicker.
I think he’s done a good job of understanding the pro game and not comparing himself to Ghost, thinking he’s something like that. Because he’s not. He’s different. He’s got his own skill set and using his size and his range is his bread and butter. To continue to use that and learn that that’s his bread and butter and making that good first pass is really what it’s all about.
He seems a lot more confident in handling the puck, making plays carrying the puck up the ice.It comes with experience and confidence. You can just watch him and can tell he is more confident. He’s jumping up in the play a little more which we have always talked about. Maybe he just feels more comfortable doing. I think he’s getting pucks through to the net a little bit quicker and harder. From the start, we have told him the points are not how we are evaluating your play. That’s a bonus, something he will grow into. 
Learning to grow as a defending defenseman first, playing physical and defending well. You’ll break up the play you’ll limit time in the D-zone and you’ll play offense more naturally if you defend well instead of thinking you’re an offensive defenseman.  
That’s what he has to do to break through – to defend well. That’s the priority. Defending first, then the offense will come. He kind of came to the pro realm thinking he was come here and score points every night. That’s secondary to defending right now. That will grow, he’ll find his way there. I think he’s skating better and moving the puck – has real good breakouts – but that’s the priority. Defending the net, making the good first pass. He’s come a long way and Alt is helping him out a lot in that department. They complement each other.  
One thing Morin was quick to point out in talking with him about his first season of pro hockey is the help he's been getting from the veteran defenders on the team - Andrew MacDonald, Davis Drewiske and Matt Lashoff.

"The veterans are really helping me. They talk to me a lot, every shift I get feedback and it's really helping out," Morin recalled.

There's been a ton of roster turnover from game to game due to all of the injuries, but through it all Morin has been almost exclusively paired with Mark Alt.

"I think they have been most the consistent pairing," Cote said of the Morin-Alt pairing. "They’ve been consistently together and done a real good job of playing against other team’s top lines."

"We play really well together," Morin said of his pairing with Alt. "We play against the best line of the other teams since the beginning of the year. Its hard but it's fun. Mark is a really good player. Skating well with the puck, good vision and good shot. We just need to keep talking on the ice. That's the key to our success. We talk a lot and it makes it easier."

There's definitely a lot of growth in Morin's game in just half a season of pro hockey. He's playing against opposing team's best offensive players and getting special teams shifts on both the penalty kill and power play. He's certainly trending up and has earned the trust from the Phantoms' coaching staff to play in all situations.

"I feel good. Even at the beginning of the year I think I was playing pretty well," Morin said. Points are starting to come. I just try to play simple and be hard on the puck."


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