ALLENTOWN — Because of his size, his physical nature, and the position he plays, Samuel Morin drew comparisons to Chris Pronger when the Flyers made the hulking defenseman the 11th overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Pronger, of course, was a Hall of Famer who not only was the best crease-clearer of his era but was someone who supplied offense and quarterbacked a power play.
It would be unfair — and unrealistic — to expect Morin, who should finally crack the Flyers lineup next season, to match Pronger’s all-around play.
But he does have a lot of Pronger in him on the defensive side. That’s the opinion of Phantoms coach Scott Gordon, who faced Pronger when he coached the New York Islanders and was an assistant in Toronto.
“Sam’s got a hard shot and he’ll score his share of goals, make his plays, and get his points,” Gordon said the other day. “But not to the level of Pronger. He’s not a power-play guy. From a defensive standpoint, he does have that same mean edge and attitude that Chris Pronger had. I don’t know if it’s equal yet, but if he was given the freedom that Chris Pronger had — ‘Hey, you slash a guy eight times and get called once, that’s a good night’ – [he would be effective].”
That will be more difficult, of course, because the game is called much tighter now – especially on slashes – than when Pronger played.
“So you have to find different ways to do it,” Gordon said of methods to frustrate forwards.
Still, Gordon’s assessment of the happy-go-lucky Morin should be welcome news for Flyers fans who watched their team get shredded for 28 goals – the most ever allowed in a six-game playoff series in franchise history – as they were eliminated by Pittsburgh in the conference quarterfinals. It was a series in which the Flyers seemed immune to hitting superstar Sidney Crosby, who torched them for six goals and 13 points.
That’s not to say the 6-foot-7, 227-pound pound Morin, if healthy, would have swayed the series in the Flyers’ favor.
But he would have made it much more competitive, much more physical.
Morin, who will turn 23 this summer, has had a trying season. A recurring injury, suspected to be his groin, has kept him out of the lineup most of the season. It seemed whenever the Flyers had an injury and could have called on Morin, the big defenseman either just got hurt or wasn’t quite ready to play.
Through it all, Morin has maintained a patient, care-free attitude.
“I don’t think it’s frustrating; it’s part of learning,” Morin, who can become a restricted free agent July 1, said in his thick French Canadian accent after he practiced with the team Thursday. “It’s been a crazy year, but it made me realize how much I want to play hockey, how much I miss it. … At the end of the day, I’ll be back stronger.”
Morin hadn’t played in 3 1/2 months, but he was in the lineup Saturday in Game 2 of the Phantoms’ second-round playoff series against high-scoring Charlotte.
In a perfect world, he will help the Phantoms make a deep playoff run, then make his mark with the Flyers next season.
“It’s a big summer and a big training camp, for sure,” he said. “I need to get re-signed, so there’s a lot of stuff going on. But you know what? I’m a really confident guy and I think I can play in the NHL when I’m healthy. I just need to get a little luck on my side, and I think I will. It’s been a long process for me, a long road, but I’ve got to make it there.”
In three of the last four training camps, Morin nearly earned a spot in the Flyers’ defensive rotation. This season, he was an extra defender with the Flyers for their season-opening road trip, but he didn’t get into any games and was returned to Lehigh Valley.
“My first year here was Sam’s first year here,” Gordon said.
Since then, Gordon said, Morin has become a better student of the game. He has simplified his game by making better reads and making smarter first-pass options. “He’s gotten back to being a presence at our net front, instead of getting out on the perimeter and trying to cover multiple guys,” Gordon said.
Morin, a decent scorer in juniors, has evolved into a shutdown AHL defenseman, which Gordon thinks will carry to the next level.
“I’m sure a lot of teams would like to get their hands on him,” Gordon said. “It’s not too often that guys are that big who can skate and are mean in a good way and can defend.”
With his physicality and long reach, Morin will also boost a sad-sack Flyers penalty-killing unit.
“A 6-foot-7 guy that can kill penalties is always going to be better than a 5-foot-10 guy,” Gordon said. “So those are the intangibles of his size and playing the way he plays that are his strengths.”
Just don’t call him Chris Pronger Lite.