Beleaguered defenseman Sam Morin will try to make the 2020-21 Philadelphia Flyers as a forward.
Now a forward, still an absolute unit. pic.twitter.com/CHyhhU1jsA
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) December 31, 2020
On Thursday, general manager Chuck Fletcher told the media that coach Alain Vigneault had proposed the idea of moving Morin to left wing. He’s looking for more sandpaper up front. Morin’s looking for a chance to re-start his NHL career and has been preparing for this opportunity.
Bigger and Badder
“I think, certainly, having a little bit more size and physicality up front is an area we felt we needed to address,” Fletcher said. “You’re looking for players to bring that element and play. Sam is a big man. He can skate. He can shoot the puck. Obviously, he understands the game defensively which is a big part of the game as well when you are playing in a bottom-six role.”
“I was a forward a couple years in minor hockey, but I switched to defense pretty quick,” Morin said about his experience up front. “When AV asked me about it, I was a little bit shocked. After talking to my agent and the coaches about it, I kind of figured out it was something that I need to try in this situation right now.”
Morin, 25, was one of the early pieces that then-general manager Paul Holmgren put into place when the Flyers started rebuilding their blue line through drafting and developing. With great size at 6’7″ and a bit of a mean streak, he was selected by the Flyers with the 11th overall pick in 2013, ahead of now-established defenders like Josh Morrissey (13th, to Winnipeg), Ryan Pulock (15th, to the Islanders) and Shea Theodore (26th, to the Ducks, now with the Golden Knights).
Some members of that 2013 draft class, including third-overall pick Seth Jones, now have more than 500 NHL games under their belts. But injuries have limited Morin to just nine games so far at hockey’s top level.
Over the last three years, he has undergone two surgeries to repair his right ACL. As a member of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, he tore the ligament during the 2018 Calder Cup playoffs. The second tear happened also happened with the Phantoms, in November of 2019.
While Morin has been sidelined, 2014 first-rounder Travis Sanheim and 2015 first-rounder Ivan Provorov have developed into arguably the Flyers’ two most important defenseman. Free-agent signing Phil Myers has been another addition to the young core. He showed last season that he can handle a full-time role.
Two more high-end prospects are the pipeline. Offensive dynamo Cam York and 2020 second-rounder Emil Andrae are both currently gaining valuable experience at the World Junior Championship.
Now that the organization has good defensive depth, Fletcher believes that Morin’s best chance to stick with the big club this year is up front. The decision was also impacted by the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming American Hockey League season.
“In an ideal world, if the American League is going, you could maybe have him get in some reps on defense and grow his game,” Fletcher said. “At some point, that could become a reality again. For right now, to have Sam a part of our group — that size and that physicality — he’s been working hard for a couple months now on this transition and working at it. We think there’s a realistic chance he can positively impact our team in that role.”
“I’m fighting for my career right now,” Morin admitted. “I’m fighting for another job. Obviously, I did all this because I wanted to keep playing hockey.
“I am really excited, honestly, just to have a shot — just to be at camp right now.
“If you look at last year at the same time, I was on crutches. I was doing some rehab. I was not in a good spot mentally and physically. Now, I’m back on track. I got to work hard and I’m going to enjoy it.
“I’m just really happy to be back with the boys and not be in the rehab room. It’s so much more fun to play hockey again.”
Morin is In the final year of a three-year contract that carries a cap hit of $700,000. He will be a salary-cap bargain if he can carve out a role as a regular up front.
He’ll be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights at the end of the 2020-21 season.
Lindblom, Patrick Also Expected To Play
Fletcher is also hopeful that his club’s forward depth will be enhanced by the returns of Oskar Lindblom, after his cancer battle, and Nolan Patrick, who missed all of last season with migraine disorder.
“(Lindblom’s) had a tremendous off-season,” he said last week. “He’s been able to rebuild his body, if you will, and regain some of the muscle mass he lost during his treatments last spring and summer. He’s in really good shape, physically.”
Patrick has been skating with the team and has not shown any concerning signs to date. But that’s not a guaranteed green light.
“We’ll wait for the doctors to meet with him for the pre-season physical,” Fletcher said. “Life is unpredictable. We certainly saw that last year. I can’t make predictions on anybody. I think we’re in good shape going into camp and we’re excited to get these two players back.”
This year’s training camp rosters are limited to a total of 36 skaters and unlimited goaltenders. That will be pared down to a 23-player roster and a four-to-six man taxi squad by opening night — including a minimum of three goalies.
The full training camp roster will be released on Jan. 2, one day before camp officially opens.
The Flyers will kick off the new NHL season on Jan. 13 at Wells Fargo Center, against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Puck drop is at 5:30 p.m. ET for the first game of NBCSN’s opening-night tripleheader.