Morin, Sanheim Glimpse of the Future for Flyers

Friday, November 25, 2016
Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey
Flyers' top defense prospects playing together in Lehigh Valley

Written by: Tim Riday - Twitter

There is a word becoming synonymous with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms: Depth.

They have it on offense, they have it on defense and they have it between the pipes. But when it comes to the prospects in the Philadelphia Flyers’ system, all eyes are still attentively fixated on the blue line.

How has Travis Sanheim looked so far in his first full season as a pro? Is Sam Morin NHL-ready? Will either player get a look with the Flyers this season?

Those are the questions fans are asking every week, with good reason. Even the rapid ascension of Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov has done little to divert the spotlight on youngsters like Sanheim and Morin, both first-round draft picks.

The Flyers’ collection of talented and promising defenders is no longer the league’s best-kept secret. The kids are coming and prospect updates are at a high demand.

What the casual fan, however, might not be aware of is the developing chemistry between Morin and Sanheim. Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon has been using the duo in key situations and they’ve been up to the task.

“We’re coming together as a group,” Sanheim said last week. “We’re starting to communicate and understand where the other guys are gonna be. As a D partner, me and Sammy are starting to come together and understand how the other guy plays.”

When Gordon made the decision to use Morin and Sanheim as a defensive unit, he may have stumbled upon a concept that will be revisited in the future. Could they eventually wind up as a pair at the next level? It’s not that farfetched to believe.

With the Phantoms, for the moment though, Morin and Sanheim are drawing the tough assignments. On most nights, they’re going up against the opposition’s top lines. They also see key penalty-killing minutes and are often used late in games to preserve leads.

Morin has experience in that regard. The big, bruising defenseman is in his second year in Allentown and understands the importance of grooming himself into a shutdown blueliner.

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

Now Morin finds himself tasked with showing Sanheim, a first-year AHLer, the ropes. The transition from junior hockey to the professional level is not an easy one. Morin went through growing pains of his own in 2015-16.

But when you watch Morin and Sanheim closely, they could fool you. They don’t look timid in the least bit. It’s almost as if they’ve been playing together for years.

“It’s been good so far,” Sanheim said of skating with Morin. “I think me and him took a little bit to get our chemistry together, but I think we’ve been starting to play pretty good as of late. I think it just comes to communication and, like I said, to know what his instincts are and where he’s gonna be.”

The two complement each other extraordinarily well. Morin is the muscle. He’ll win puck battles along the boards and moves the opposition away from the crease. He’s also smart on pinches.

Sanheim can do those things, too, but there is much more to his game. He can move the puck up ice with ease and is a spectacular skater. There is an offensive upside to his skill-set that hasn’t quite translated yet to the AHL level but that’s OK. He’s not being relied on to rack up points. That’s why T.J. Brennan and Will O’Neill were brought on.

Still, Sanheim has managed to collect eight assists in 16 games. His latest was a beauty in 3-on-3 overtime to set up Scott Laughton’s game-winner last Friday night.

Sanheim’s hockey IQ is off the charts. He knows where to position himself in all areas of the ice and very rarely gets caught sleeping. When you see him make keeps in the offensive zone, it almost reminds you of Gostisbehere. Sanheim is just as elusive and agile. He’s a bigger body so he doesn’t quite have the quickness we see every night from Gostisbehere.

And Morin is the perfect partner when it comes to defense. Morin has a long reach and is a nightmare for the opposition. They just know they’re going to take a beating.

That’s beginning to spill over for Sanheim. The two defensemen are aggressive on the puck carriers, always have sticks in passing lanes and make it very difficult for opposing forwards to enter the zone.

In the rare occasion that they’re on the ice for a goal against, it’s not a glaring mistake. They’re making opponents earn their points. They don’t make back-breaking errors with the puck or in coverage and you simply don’t see them get crossed up. The communication between the two is superb.

This is clearly the pair to watch on the farm. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, who attended last Wednesday’s game, has to be smitten with how they’ve performed thus far. They’re causing headaches but in a good way. They certainly don’t look like your average 20 and 21-year-olds.

Who knows? Maybe, if all goes well, they'll continue to play together with the Flyers sometime soon.

The key is consistency. They have it right now and that's with Sanheim manning the right side of the ice.

"Just like we did with Ghost last year, down the road there might be more opportunities on the right side for some of our prospects," Gordon told Highland Park Hockey earlier this season. "I think when you're in a situation to be able learn down here on the off-side, it's a lot easier to learn than in the NHL."

Sanheim learning the right side is only going to provide the Phantoms - and Flyers - more flexibility. They have a slew of defensive prospects coming up the ranks but not a whole lot of guys familiar with the right point.

No biggie for Sanheim.

"Throughout my career I have been able to play both sides, so I'm not afraid to go over and switch," he said.

Many fans are clamoring to see Morin and Sanheim make their NHL debuts sooner rather than later. It’s entirely possible they’ll see some NHL action this season. You never know with injuries or trades.

This pair, however, may be well worth the wait. Especially if they come up together as a unit.

In the meantime, Phantoms fans get to be spoiled. It’s not every day you get to watch the future play out in front of you.

Edited by: Tony Androckitis


perttu junnonaho said...

Nice news that Sandhaim is very good also in right side of defense, cause we lack right scooting defenders exempt Myers! But we must try to make the right trades in order to upgrade thous positions where we need badly more quality!

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