Flyers defense needs the edge prospect Sam Morin brings

When the Flyers acquired Chris Pronger in 2009, they did so because their defense was too soft and they needed someone to clear the crease in front of their goalies.

"I wanted a guy who would make life miserable for the other team," then-general manager Paul Holmgren said at the time. "Chris is one of those guys."

Fast-forward to the 2016-17 Flyers. Once again, their defense doesn't play with much of an edge, and their forwards have done a poor job back-checking. Their goalies have struggled, but that has been magnified by the inordinate amount of odd-man rushes and wild near-the-net scrambles they have faced.

Clearly, the Flyers need someone to "make life miserable" for opponents, to make them think twice about freewheeling into the zone or setting up camp in front of Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth.

Paging Sam Morin. Paging Sam Morin.

This isn't to suggest that Morin is going to turn into the next Pronger. There was only one Pronger.

But it is to suggest that the Flyers should speed up the rebuilding process and bring up the 6-foot-7, 225-pound Morin from the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

The mistake-prone Flyers headed into Friday having allowed 148 goals. No NHL team had surrendered more.

Can Morin make them much worse?

The Flyers need Morin's snarl, need his physical style. Let him take his lumps in the season's last two-plus months and get a head start on next season.

At Lehigh Valley, Morin has been paired with 6-4, 199-pound Travis Sanheim, and the two are considered a huge part of the Flyers' future.

"We're obviously excited about both guys," Phantoms coach Scott Gordon said the other day.

Morin is the better defensive player, while Sanheim brings more offense to the table.

With the Phantoms, Morin is being groomed "to be a shutdown guy, a penalty killer. His focus isn't about getting points. It's about doing what he's going to do in the NHL," Gordon said. "And hopefully one day - sooner rather than later - that will happen."

Morin, 21, has been one of the reasons the Phantoms have one of the AHL's stingiest defenses.

With the Flyers defense struggling, Morin was asked whether he looked at the big team's situation and wondered if he'd be recalled this season.

"I don't really look at that," he said in his thick French Canadian accent. "I know they have a lot of D-men up there, so I just try to focus on my work here."

This is Morin's second year with the Phantoms, and he said he feels more comfortable than he did in his rookie season. "And I think I have a bigger role, too," he said. "We have a better team. Last year we spent a lot of time in the defensive zone; this year, we're an offensive team, so we're spending more time in the offensive zone."

While Sanheim, 20, is the more offensive-minded player of the duo, "I don't think you can say that I'm just backing off," Morin said. "I've had some pretty good breakouts. I've had a lot of chances, but haven't finished them sometimes. I'm more of a defensive guy, but if you see our games, you can see my passing game and my offensive game is pretty good right now."

Morin and Sanheim have developed a chemistry on the ice and a bond off it. They live together and are close friends.

"We just play really well together," Morin said. "Travis is unreal with the puck and I just play real physical and it works pretty well. I think they want me to play with a puck-mover, so it's working."

Next season, it wouldn't be surprising if the Flyers' D included four young players: Morin, Sanheim, Ivan Provorov - the team's top defenseman this year - and Shayne Gostisbehere.

The following season, Phil Myers and Robert Hagg could be there. As difficult as it is to envision right now, a young, talented defense figures to someday be the Flyers' identity.

Maybe sooner rather than later.

scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull www.philly.com/flyersblog

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