After suffering a pair of torn ACLs in a span of 19 months, Samuel Morin put it honestly on Thursday:
"I'm fighting for my career right now."
He's willing to try anything.
Morin, a 6-foot-6 defenseman selected by the Flyers in the first round of the 2013 draft, is attempting to switch his position to left winger.
Head coach Alain Vigneault and assistant coach Ian Laperriere approached Morin about the idea in the offseason. Morin was initially a little "shocked," he said, but after discussing it with his agent, the two felt it was a good avenue for the 25-year-old to return to the ice and continue his career in Philly.
Morin, a happy-go-lucky, persistent player, is excited for the opportunity as the Flyers get set to open training camp Jan. 3. Morin has been working on the position switch for the past couple of months. He said he played forward a few years in minor hockey but quickly switched to defenseman.
The Flyers anticipate having a 23-man roster heading into their 2020-21 regular season, which is set to begin Jan. 13. Because of the challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic, teams will be allowed to loan a minimum of four and a maximum of six players to their "taxi squad," as the league is calling it. Morin looks to be a candidate for the roster but more so the taxi squad. The AHL season is slated to start Feb. 5.
"I kind of figured out it was something I need to try in this situation right now," Morin said in a video interview. "When A.V. asked me, it was a few months ago. I didn’t know if we were going to have an American League [season] or even if they were going to play, so I needed to have a plan because I’m fighting for my career right now, I’m fighting for another job. Obviously I did all this rehab because I wanted to keep playing hockey.
"I am really excited, honestly, just to have a shot, just to be here, just to be at camp right now. If you look at last year, at the same time a year ago, I was on crutches and I was doing some rehab. I was not in a good spot mentally and physically. Now, I’m back on track. I've 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."
Vigneault and the Flyers felt they needed more size up front, especially after the team's second-round exit in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Islanders. As Morin has endured unfortunate injuries, the club has gotten deeper on defense. Not only does the team look solidly stocked on the blue line this season, but it also has some prospects not far down the road, namely Egor Zamula and Cam York.
Morin's camp could see this as an opportunistic route for the prospect to crack the Flyers' lineup now or in the future. It's also possible Morin's camp sees it as an audition for other clubs, as well. Teams are intrigued by size along the wing and the 6-foot-6 Morin, who is a solid skater with long reach, is set to be a restricted free agent following the 2020-21 season.
"Sam is a big man, he can skate, he can shoot the puck," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Thursday in a video interview. "Obviously he understands the game defensively, which is a big part of the game as well when you're playing in a bottom-six role. A.V. approached Sam and Lappy’s had several conversations with him, and Sam was open to it. He hasn’t played a lot of hockey, he wants to do whatever he can to play. I think if this was an opportunity for him to get ice time and be with our club, then he was excited about it.
"Watching him out here, he’s worked really hard. It’s amazing what a good skater he is and we think he can really have a positive impact on our team and certainly be a disrupter on the ice."
Morin said he has been studying tape of Matt Martin, who played for the Islanders last season.
"Really simple game; really, really simple and really efficient," Morin said. "The puck is always behind the D-man and he always finishes his hit. His shift is honestly in like 30 seconds, he just goes change, then [Mathew] Barzal is on the ice and they are just buzzing in the offensive zone because of just the little details he does. He finishes his check on the D-man, it’s so annoying. I’ve been looking at his shifts a lot."
Morin's second torn ACL occurred in November 2019. Although he believes he can still have a career as a defenseman, he's heading into January 2021 as a left winger for now.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge no matter what we do, he hasn’t played a lot of hockey in the last three years," Fletcher said. "We’re pretty deep on defense right now and with the uncertainty surrounding the American Hockey League, we feel this is the best opportunity for Sam to be with our club."
Over the last three seasons, Morin has played a total of 31 pro games — 23 with the Phantoms (three of them in the postseason) and eight with the Flyers.
"Certainly his size, his skating and his physicality are elements that we feel our team could use," Fletcher said. "In an ideal world, if the American League is going, maybe you could have him getting some reps on defense and growing his game, and at some point that could still become a reality again, but for right now, to have Sam part of our group, and with that size and that physicality; he’s been working hard for a couple of months now on this transition and working at it. We think there’s a realistic chance that he can positively impact our team in that role.”
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