Almost five years ago, when Ron Hextall was only the “assistant” General Manager under Paul Holmgren, the Flyers took a hulking defenseman with the 11th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. That giant was Samuel Morin, and he was destined for big things.
The six foot seven 22 year old is the biggest defenseman in the Flyers system right now. He mirrors his game in a very similar fashion to former Flyer Chris Pronger. He’s a smooth skater, very efficient with his strides, and he has a nasty snarl that would make the boys like Bobby Clarke and Dave Schultz proud. However, there’s on aspect to his game that frustrates many a Flyers fans.
It’s no secret that Sam Morin has had a tough time staying healthy while donning the orange and black. It’s not a laundry list of injuries necessarily, but there are enough, and at the worst of times, to consider the 22 year old snake bitten.
In October of 2014, Bob Mckenzie of TSN was quoted, saying:
“The Philadelphia Flyers are also trying to move a defenseman. They’ve got cap issues. Historically, Luke Schenn has always been available from that Philadelphia blueline.
But the play of Sam Morin, an underage junior from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, has also got some believing that Nick Grossmann, the veteran defenseman for the Philadelphia Flyers, could also be had to try and free up cap space and a roster spot for Morin who might be ready to step in, at least for a nine-game trial.”
Encouraging news for the youngster, but just after this news broke, Morin fractured his jaw, and would be out of commission for 4-5 weeks afterwards. The 2015-16 season looked more promising. Morin played all 76 games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and tallied 19 points for the club. Things were looking up.
Fast forward to the off-season, and Morin was under the knife once again, having surgery on his abdomen and his hip. Luckily, that didn’t permit him to miss a ton of time, and he still played in 74 games for the Phantoms, including making his NHL debut against the New Jersey Devils in April of 2017. That stint in the bigs was short-lived, as he was sent down the next day. That offseason, Morin had more surgery, this time on both of his wrists. However, he was still ready to go when the season started up, and this would prove to be the most important training camp yet.
Going into the 2017-18 season, there were two open spots on the blue line for the Flyers and Sam Morin was expected to stake his claim to one of them. Between Morin, Robert Hagg, and Travis Sanheim, the Flyers were set to welcome two rookies to their blueline. In an interesting turn of events, all three made the team going into the first game of the season. However, Morin wouldn’t see the ice.
He ended up getting sent back down to Lehigh Valley for about a week or so until Hextall came calling. He attempted to call up Morin, but Sam had been dealing with a nagging injury, so Mark Alt got called up in his place. Tough luck.
About a month later, Morin was healthy and got called up, finally, and played two games for the Flyers until he was ultimately sent right back down when the incumbents were all healthy. Morin spent the rest of the year down with the Phantoms, until he ultimately went down again with what appeared to be a shoulder injury against the Hershey Bears in January at the AHL Outdoor Classic.
“Snake-bitten” has been mentioned before, but good lord, has this kid had some tough luck. Morin is destined for the NHL, but his injury-prone label is not doing him any favors. Recently, Morin has returned to the ice, and sparked rumors and reports of him potentially joining the Phantoms on their current post-season run.
Sam Morin is skating with #LVPhantoms today in a regular jersey.
Phil Varone also skating, but in a yellow no-contact jersey.
— Tony Androckitis* (@TonyAndrock) May 1, 2018
Here’s why him playing this year is a bad idea.
For starters, the Phantoms are doing pretty well without him. Not to say that he couldn’t help them at this point in the year, but risking further injury may not be worth it. Not to mention the old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, the Phantoms aren’t broke, why try and fix it?
Another reason is that next year may be the most important year of Morin’s career, and he cannot be risking his health for one run, when he has a whole career ahead of him. Morin will be a restricted free agent after next year, so the 2018-19 season is his year to prove his worth to Flyers brass. Being healthy coming into the season could go a long way for his hopes of breaking into the big league.
Also, with Manning and Oduya gone, and possibly Radko Gudas (hopefully), that frees up another spot on the blue line, and Morin is next in line to step up and take that spot. After Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg surpassed him early on in the 2017-18 season, many, including myself, believed that Morin would be a mainstay on the Flyers blue line this season. We were wrong, and that’s not a bad thing considering how well Hagg played all year, and how well Sanheim played after getting sent down and called back up.
The last, but most important reason, that Morin should forego the AHL playoffs this season, simply put, is that the Flyers need him more. The Flyers have not had a physical presence capable of clearing the crease since Chris Pronger himself was on the team. This isn’t in any way, shape, or form, me saying that Samuel Morin is the next Chris Pronger. However, having been drafted while Pronger was with the team still, and being built very similar to Pronger himself, there’s reason to believe that Morin could develop into a player that resembles Chris Pronger.
Pronger had that mean streak, that snarl that epitomizes what Flyers hockey is about. He had the ability to physically dominate opponents, and force them out of the crease so the goalie could make a good play on the puck. Sam Morin is the closest the Flyers have to a Chris-Pronger-like player. Judging by the defensemen they have on their current roster, and their inability to get bodies out from in front of the net, Samuel Morin may be the answer to that problem.
If there’s anything hockey players are known for, it’s their desire to play the game they love. Samuel Morin has said he wants to play this year, but taking into account the long term consequences, it may be a wise decision to take some more time off, heal up those wounds, and get at it next year right off the bat with a clean bill of health, and the attitude that made Samuel Morin who he his today: a big, bad, crease clearing machine who the Flyers need desperately.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports