Sam Morin Continues His Path Toward the NHL

Thursday, May 26, 2016
Sam Morin's path to the NHL is using his size and strength to his advantage. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News.
Editor's Note: This is the fourth of many player profile features that will be completed and posted online this summer to give an accurate update on the players' development paths, skill set, potential NHL ceiling and more. Most player profiles will also include exclusive thoughts from both the player and the coaching staff with in-depth assessment/comments.

If you missed any of the first three player profiles, click the links below:
The first profile story featured forward Cole Bardreau.
The second profile story featured defenseman Robert Hagg.
The latest profile story featured forward Tyrell Goulbourne.
A highly regarded prospect in the Philadelphia Flyers system, defenseman Sam Morin turned pro in the 2015-16 season and appeared in all 76 games for the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms - the only member of the oft-injured team to play in every single game.

While the adjustment process and learning to play his game took some time, Morin continued to improve throughout the season - including a very impressive final month of the season in April.

Morin is a rare breed. His size and strength are very apparent, but it's his mobility and skating for his size that makes him an intriguing prospect. He's not going to get to the NHL by playing offense and being a puck-mover. However, it's a simple responsible two-way game with stalwart defense and physical play that will pave his way to the NHL.

You can help keep me on the road covering the Lehigh Valley Phantoms next season by making a donation via GoFundMe or PayPal.

The Basics

Player: Sam Morin
Position: Defenseman
Shoots: Left
Birthday: 07-12-1995 (currently 20-years-old)
Height/Weight: 6-7, 227 pounds
How Acquired: Drafted by Flyers in 1st round (11th overall) in 2013
Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent in 2018-19

Skill Set: Physical, checking, stay-at-home defenseman
NHL Comparable: offer your suggestion in the comments
Potential NHL Ceiling: 2nd pairing defenseman to partner with an offensive blue liner

Morin's Background

In his four-year junior hockey career with Rimouski in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), Morin was simply a man against boys - using his size to his advantage and being a dominant defenseman.

He reflected during this past summer's annual development camp that he often had to hold up on his hitting and physical play because he was so much bigger than his competition and took several penalties because of his ability to push around smaller players.

In his final season in the QMJHL - after being drafted 11th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers - Morin was limited to just 38 games after a broken jaw caused him to miss significant time. In fact, he missed plenty of games throughout his junior career due to several injuries and suspensions. His abilities at the junior level stood out, including an impressive 19-game playoff run in his final games at the QMJHL level, but there were still question marks about how he would adjust to hockey at the pro level entering his rookie season.

Morin's 2015-16 Season in Review

Morin's first month of pro hockey was one of a learning experience. He wasn't putting up any offensive performances of note, but rather focusing on learning the defensive zone.

Assistant coach Riley Cote recalled that in the beginning of season Morin saw Shayne Gostisbehere putting up points and producing offensively, and that he wanted to enjoy the same offensive success. It was after a conversation with Morin that Cote instilled the right mentality into the young defenseman that he simply wasn't going to be that offensive defenseman and wasn't going to be a successful pro if he didn't play to his strengths - playing strong defensive hockey and playing with edge, physical with a nasty streak and teetering that line.

Through the first two months of the season, Morin tallied just two points (one goal, one assist) through 21 games. He wasn't confident with the puck on his stick and really focused on making the simple play and being a stay-at-home defenseman alongside veteran Mark Alt whom he was paired with a majority of the season.

It wasn't until December that Morin started gaining more confidence in his game and looked more comfortable skating the puck up ice, joining the rush on offense. He tallied seven (one goal, six assists) of his 19 points on the season in a 12-game span before the 2015 calendar year came to a close.

The offensive surge continued into the beginning of January, but during the team's struggles in February and March Morin was often caught trying to do too much - getting away from his playing a simple game approach. He was a minus 14 in a 19-game span during the Phantoms' stretch run, both a sign of the team's and his own personal struggles.

However, like most of the team, Morin got back on track in April and was back to looking like a confident two-way defender making the right reads and joining the offensive rush when the opportunity presented itself.

Throughout the season, Morin played a pivotal role in special teams - playing a lot of minutes on the penalty kill and sometimes appearing on the second unit on the power play. Playing in all situations, combined with playing in all 76 games, gave Morin a good base of experience in his rookie season - something to build upon heading into the summer and next fall.

Morin By The Numbers

2015-16 Season Stats: 76GP, 4G-15A, -5, 118 PIM
2015-16 Season Grade: B

October Grade: B
October Stats: 9 games played, 0G-1A, Even, 12 PIM

Morin said it best when I caught up with him. He hasn't done anything spectacular by any means, but he's played solid in his own end for the most part. He's still learning the pro game and learning to use his size to his advantage, but so far so good. He picked up his first point of the season on Sunday in Hershey, and looked relieved to get on the score sheet.

November Grade: B
November Stats: 14GP, 1G-2A, +1, 24 PIM

Morin had been working almost exclusively with the defensive side of the game, and while he's still a little hesitant with the puck at times moving it up ice and in the offensive zone he isn't doing anything but improving and gaining confidence with each passing game.

December Grade: B
December Stats: 13GP, 1G-6A, -6, 21 PIM

The points are coming for Morin now, but at the expense of getting caught up ice more than a few times and hurting his team defensively. At times it seems like he's trying to do too much. He's held down a regular spot on the 2nd unit for both special teams units most of the season and is getting ample ice time alongside a reliable, steady player in Mark Alt.

January Grade: B+
January Stats: 12GP, 1G-3A, +5, 22 PIM

Morin began the month with points in four straight games, but has since gone pointless. That's not to say he hasn't been effective - he was a plus five in 12 games. As I wrote two weeks ago, Morin is learning to keep it simple.

Febraury Grade: B-
February Stats: 11GP, 0G-2A, -5, 9 PIM

Morin is still learning the pro game and working on his positioning and situational play. There have been a lot asking if he will make the Flyers next fall out of camp, and while he isn't playing poorly by any stretch of the imagination, I think it's best to temper those expectations. Young defensemen take time to adjust and GM Ron Hextall preaches patience.

March Grade: C
March Stats: 11GP, 0G-1A, -8, 4 PIM

Morin isn't putting up much in terms of offense lately, but the focus - like it has been all season - is playing strong defensive hockey and continuing to learn the subtle nuances of pro hockey. He's the only member of the Phantoms to appear in every game this season, which he admitted the amount of games and minutes he is playing is a lot more than his oft-injured/suspension filled junior hockey seasons.

April Grade: A-
April Stats: 8GP, 1G-2A, +8, 30 PIM

Morin was back to the confident young defenseman he was before the team's plight in March. He took a complete 180 from March to April, going from a minus eight to a plus eight. While plus/minus isn't always an indicator of strong play, Morin was superb in the team's final games - making good first passes out of the defensive zone and even joining the rush from time to time when the situation presented itself.

Morin's Thoughts

On if he feels like he's a different player now than the start of the season:
Yeah, I feel like I improved a lot. More confident than in the beginning of the year. March was tough, but I learned from that because that was the first time in my life that I had been through something like this, losing 8-0 at home was really tough. But the way we bounced back I think I learned a lot from that.
On playing all 76 games this season, more than he's used to playing:
I didn't get injured this year, so I played a lot of games. My junior career I got injured a couple times - I broke my jaw last year and only played 38 games. The year before I got a lot of suspensions. This year, I played all of the games so I feel really lucky and pretty happy with it. It's huge to play all of those games. Those three-in-threes are pretty tough. It's good for me, my experience and my game shape.
On feeling more comfortable offensively despite the defensive focus:
My defensive game is going to bring me to the NHL. I think it's what the Flyers want - me to play mean, make simple plays, good first pass and win my 1-on-1 battles - but for sure I know I have some skills and can bring some offense. That comes with confidence. I feel good when I don't have scoring chances against me and I have a couple scoring chances for my team.
On wanting to leave a good final impression before the summer:
I think it's huge. The guys coming back next year want to leave coach Gordon and Hextall a good impression, so we want to play well. They want to see the guys compete, and they're going to see that. I just want to keep my game simple. When I try to do too much is when I get into some trouble.
Coaches Comments

Assistant Coach Riley Cote

On what Morin needs to pay closer attention to:
I think he’s grown as a person and a player all season long. I think the one thing I can say about Sam is he plays a physical brand of hockey but he needs to really find that line. I think the last few games he’s taken a couple extra penalties. We want him to be aggressive, we want him to be greasy but he’s a big strong powerful guy that’s going to wind up taking penalties if he crosses that line. I think that’s the biggest thing for him.
On the progress Morin made in the second half of the season:
I thought he’s getting shots off quicker from the point, making better reads. His breakout passes have improved. Everything has improved. I think the one that sticks out to me these last few games is probably just his playing on the edge and trying not to cross over. He will at times, and I get it, but trying to stay more disciplined.
Final Analysis

A few things to consider as Morin prepares for his second season:

  • Flyers general manager Ron Hextall preaches patience and has shown he won't rush his prospects into NHL action until he's 110% sure they're ready.
  • Morin had all eyes on him this season while in Lehigh Valley. He improved as the season went along and will be a big part of the Phantoms' defense core in 2016-17, but the arrival of Travis Sanheim might relieve some of the pressures of being under a microscope by management, staff, media and the fans alike.
  • Morin brings a unique skill set to the Flyers defense prospects in that he adds size, strength and a physical presence that is largely missing in the Flyers' system.
Morin should be much more comfortable with the pro game entering his second season, and should also be ready to take the next step. That next step is being a consistently dominant player at the AHL level.


Joe said...

can't wait for him to play alongside sanheim next season. that pair will be lethal

Joe said...

can't wait for him to play alongside sanheim next season. that pair will be lethal

B N ME said...

Heckuva write up, Tony! This is the best article I've seen on Morin all year. BSH linked me here. I don't know why there's not more comments. Thanks again.

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