Since the day he was drafted in June 2013, the Sam Morin comparisons have been made to Chris Pronger, but the credit since then can be given to Kjell Samuelsson.
Samuelsson, a 14-year NHL veteran and the Flyers' director of player development, has worked extensively with Morin over the past few years to refine the rookie’s all-around game. It’s a constant work in progress, but if Morin was a piece of pottery, Samuelsson would have to admire the way it's taking shape.
“I’m really confident in my game and I really believe I can make it," Morin said following Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime preseason victory against the Rangers (see observations). “It’s not over. I just need to stay focused. Work hard. Every day, every practice I’ll earn my spot and I know it.”
In the first period, Morin was able to pick his spots. With the Flyers trailing, 2-0, late in the stanza, the defenseman joined the rush, filled the slot and wristed a shot in the top corner over the blocker side of Rangers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
“The game now is too quick for a slap shot, except for the power play. The release is everything,” Morin said after his first goal at the NHL level. “I work a lot with Kjell with that. When I came my first year, my draft year, I was taking those big slappers, and scoring big goals, but you can’t do that here. Guys are going to block it, and that’s something I learned from Kjell. I think I have a pretty good shot. I’m pretty confident with that.”
Earlier in the opening period, Morin showed some restraint after he leveled forward Gabriel Fontaine. Moments later, he answered a challenge to drop the gloves with Bobby Farnham, who came into the fight giving up eight inches to the 6-foot-6 Morin (see video).
Once again, Morin pointed to the Samuelsson effect, as well as offseason surgery, for taking a more passive approach to those five-minute majors.
“That guy jumped me and I was ready for him," Morin said. "I did my job. I pissed him off and he gets a penalty for it. I got hand surgery this summer, too. Especially earlier in camp, I didn’t want to destroy my camp by getting hurt, but I wasn’t really confident with my wrist, but I feel great and I can fight, that’s for sure.
“Kjell is real good with me for that. In juniors, I was pretty crazy for that. I was less patient and hungry for those things. I’m still learning and I try to get better every day.”
Interestingly, Morin has been engaged in a heated battle with teammate Travis Sanheim for one of the two open positions on the Flyers' blue line. The two former first-round picks have been roommates from the moment they reported to rookie camp and into training camp. Morin didn’t watch the game at Madison Square Garden in which Sanheim scored twice (see story), but said he heard about it.
Tuesday night, Morin finally heard his name called, and he’s on track to see his name with the rest of the NHL regulars.
“He’s in a mix of eight right now. That’s the positive of it. He’s played well," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "The other seven guys are doing a good job. I know the focus is always on the young guys, but it’s a group of eight right now."
“I’m ready," Morin said. "I win those 1-on-1 battles. My game is just about that.”
Forwards discover their scoring touch
• At one point, the Flyers had played seven-plus periods of hockey and their four goals were all scored by rookie defensemen (three from Sanheim, one from Morin). The forwards finally snapped that trend when center Scott Laughton tied the game at 2-2 less than three minutes into the second period. Oskar Lindblom added his first, redirecting Andrew MacDonald’s shot from the point, and Travis Konecny answered with the game-winner in overtime off a pass from Claude Giroux.
“I always find that in the two years that I’ve played in preseason games before, the defense always steps up in preseason and gets a majority of the goals, so I wasn’t surprised," Konecny said. "But it’s definitely nice that we’re starting to get a little bit of movement and start to put pucks away.
• For the second straight night, Giroux was operating on the left wing on a line with Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. Giroux picked up the primary assists on Morin’s goal and the Konecny overtime winner as the line had more time in the offensive zone compared to Monday’s game in New York. The line generated nine shots on net while winning the possession battle with a 69 percent success rate in the faceoff circle.
“I thought it was a nice progression,” Hakstol said. “You’re not going to have a finished product overnight. I thought [Monday] was a good start. I thought tonight was a good progression from there. They created a lot tonight. They had the puck a lot, spent a lot of time in the offensive zone, and that’s what you want to see.”
• Like with Lindblom, the Flyers appear to have found another mid-round gem with center Mikhail Vorobyev, who was taken 104th overall in 2015. Vorobyev had an exceptional rookie game with a pair of assists and was called up from Lehigh Valley on Tuesday to center the Flyers' third line with Lindblom and Konecny. Vorobyev has a vision to see openings and plays that other guys would otherwise miss, which included an impressive cross-ice pass to Giroux.
“I think he only played 10 or 11 minutes tonight. I thought he played a heck of a hockey game,” Hakstol said. “He didn’t get into much of a rhythm or flow in the first period with all the penalties. He made a couple of high-end plays offensively up and down the rink. He has a great sense of what’s around him. I thought he was reliable. It was really nice to see him come up, and he took advantage of a good opportunity.”