Morin Ready to Excel in the AHL in 2016-17

Monday, October 10, 2016
Sam Morin lines up for a face-off in Saturday's preseason finale. Photo: Amanda Statland/Highland Park Hockey
Is Big Sam 'Close' to Being NHL Ready?

Written by: Tim Riday - Twitter

When you see Sam Morin off the ice, he’s an imposing young man who commands your attention.

The reason for that is the 2013 first-round pick’s six-foot-seven, 221-pound frame. After all, he towers over most of the players he’s charged with containing in the AHL and is the tallest guy listed on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ roster.

Don’t let his size fool you, though. For as intimidating as his presence can be and for as tough and mean as he can be when the puck drops, Morin possesses an upbeat personality and almost always has a smile on his face when you’re ready to talk hockey with him. Call it a boyish charm.

But when that first whistle blows, it’s like a light switch goes off. That’s when Morin does a complete 180 and goes out to do what he does best: Turn up the physicality.

Morin thrives in the corners, along the walls and around the crease. If an opposing player dares to challenge him in any of those areas of the ice, you can guarantee they’re going to need an ice bag or two after the game.

“I play a simple game,” Morin said after the Phantoms’ 5-2 preseason victory over the Charlotte Checkers at PPL Center in Allentown on Saturday night. “A hard game.”

The AHL knows that well by now. Morin, after a solid training camp and three preseason games spent with the Philadelphia Flyers, is returning to Lehigh Valley for his second season as a professional.

The now 21-year-old’s first tour with the Phantoms wasn’t without its lumps. He was caught trying to do too much early in the 2014-15 campaign. That was to be expected. As a four-year player with Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL, the defenseman was relied on to do a little of everything. Goals, assists, fights, you name it.

He soon learned that wasn’t going to fly with the Phantoms. Head coach Scott Gordon taught him that, at the pro level, every player is going to have a specific role. Once Morin simplified his game, he began to show serious strides in his development. There’s no question he’s a promising prospect, he just needed a little direction.

“I think I’m close,” Morin said when asked if he’s ready to play at the NHL level. “The Flyers want to be patient with me but that’s a good thing. I love being down here [in the AHL]. Great building, great fans, great coaching staff. I just polish my game, keep working hard. With the camp I had, I showed the staff that I’m pretty close. I just need to keep going, pushing hard. I know one day I’m gonna make it.”

That one day almost came two years ago, when Morin was a 19-year-old at Flyers camp. He wound up being the final cut before the team’s final roster was due after several strong performances in the preseason. Ultimately, however, he was sent back to the QMJHL for more fine-tuning.

Morin continued to impress at his next two training camps, making it to the final week of roster cuts before being assigned to the Phantoms. He’s carving out a niche for himself as a defensive defenseman and doesn’t care how long it takes to receive his first call-up to the big club.

Many assumed Morin would be a full-time NHLer by now. His journey has taken longer than some of the other players in his draft class but that hasn’t discouraged him. He knows his time will come and he’s comfortable with his situation.

Morin credits the organization and its coaching staff for his resilience and positive outlook. Even after being told by Flyers GM Ron Hextall that he would be beginning the season again in Allentown, Morin took the news in stride. His exit meeting with Hextall even left him more excited to get back to business.

“One thing Ron Hextall told me after that meeting was to try not to do too much, don’t think it’s going to be easy down here,” he said. “I’m just working my ass off.”

When Morin speaks, with his thick, fast-paced French-Canadian accent that is sometimes difficult to understand, he exudes confidence. That’s spilling over onto the ice, too.

Watching him in preseason action against the Checkers, it was easy to see why he was so successful at the tail end of the 2015-16 season. He’s doing all the little things well.

Morin was quick to attack the puck carriers, made excellent decisions in his own zone and did a solid job of reading plays and keeping attackers to the outside. And then there was his physicality. Morin finished all of his checks in the corners, made forwards pay for attempting to set up in front of the net and continually frustrated the Checkers with his active stick-work.

That’s going to be his ticket to the NHL. When you’re relied on defensively, however, there are going to be growing pains. And you’re eventually going to sacrifice certain elements of your game.
For Morin, it’s his cannon of a shot. He’s not going to earn a living producing goals or setting up his teammates offensively. Sure, he has some skill but he knows he’s not a Shayne Gostisbehere or Ivan Provorov.

Nor is he a poor skater. That narrative needs to be put to rest. Just because Morin is a big body, doesn’t mean he can’t move. He’s a fluid skater in reality and really only finds himself in trouble when he gets caught trying to pinch for a 50-50 puck.

“I think last year I did a pretty good job,” he said. “I played against those top lines. That’s what I expect myself to do [this year]. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

Morin, the only Phantom to play all 76 games last season, spent almost the entirety of his rookie year paired with Mark Alt, registering four goals, 15 assists and 118 penalty minutes. The two defenders proved to be a formidable duo but won’t be together at the start of the 2016-17 season. Alt suffered an apparent shoulder injury in a preseason fight while with the Flyers and is expected to miss some time.

While that may appear, on the surface, to be a disadvantage for Morin, the Phantoms aren’t lacking in the depth department. Newcomers Will O’Neill and T.J. Brennan bring plenty of AHL experience and Robert Hagg is also returning for his second season with the team. 

Don’t forget about first-year Phantoms Travis Sanheim and Reece Willcox, either. There are plenty of talented defensemen in the system and Morin is confident he’ll find some chemistry with at least one of them. His job isn’t going to change.

“Mark was my partner all year,” he said. [The injury was] bad for him. We’re gonna see what happens with him. I don’t really think about that. I’m just gonna to play with who the coach tells me to. I want to be that shutdown D and I want to play against those big guns.”

Morin admitted there isn’t much communication with the Flyers during the season, but he knows what he’ll have to do to earn a shot in Philly.

“Play hard, play a simple game,” Morin said with his patented grin. “Play against those big lines. That’s how we’re gonna win hockey games.”

4 comments:

Joseph Pisacano said...

This is probably one of the most well written articles on Sam Morin because it's honest. It's the first one I've read that doesn't just recycle previous garbage written by other beats. It actually sounds like you have watched him play.

Joseph Pisacano said...

The one specific aspect of this article that I like is that you said he was a fluid skater which I have known for awhile now, but many people do not and it is so true. Can't wait for him to tear it up this year and get his call up

TonyAndrock said...

Thanks for the kind words. Tim is going to be a great addition to the site. Here's another piece on Morin I wrote over the summer that you might like: http://highlandparkhockey.blogspot.com/2016/05/sam-morin-continues-his-path-toward-nhl.html

perttu junnonaho said...

We must let Morin develop he"s play whit his own pace and play another season whit the minors and at the start of next season we will have another young and talented defender go up to the Flyers, cause our big team need badly more character!

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