It’s going to be a new year and a new start for the Flyers’ Samuel Morin.
Coming off a pair of ACL knee surgeries, it was thought the towering former first-round draft pick would be eased back into his position on defense when training camp opened Sunday.
Instead, general manager Chuck Fletcher raised a few eyebrows on Thursday afternoon by announcing the 25-year-old Morin will be switched to left wing for the start of the upcoming season.
Sounds like something right out of the Broad Street Bullies era.
At 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, Morin will be the biggest – and some would say baddest – operator on the Flyers’ front lines.
In his last two full seasons of professional hockey, both with the Phantoms, the Quebec native racked up a total of 247 penalty minutes.
In a Thursday media Zoom call, Fletcher indicated the move was made partly because the Flyers are deep on defense. And, maybe the team could use a little more beef up front.
“Over the last couple months we’ve had a lot of conversations and Sam is going to play left wing to start the season,’’ Fletcher said. “He’s been working on it for several weeks now. . .in the voluntary scrimmages (at the Skate Zone) he’s been playing up front.
“So we’re going to give him a try on left wing, at least to start the season.’’
Morin has never really had a chance to show his ability due to health issues.
He suffered his first ACL injury in May of 2018 during the Phantoms’ playoff run, then went down a second time on Nov. 6, 2019, again playing for the Phantoms.
The 11th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft has only managed to get into eight games with the Flyers spanning nearly five seasons at the pro level.
Switching positions this late in his career would appear to be a real challenge, although Morin did play some forward in junior.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge no matter what we do,’’ Fletcher said. “He hasn’t played a lot of hockey in the last three years.
“We’re pretty deep on defense right now (seven players with NHL experience). And the uncertainty surrounding the American Hockey League (the Flyers’ affiliate Phantoms aren’t scheduled to open until Feb. 5 at the earliest). We feel this is the best opportunity for Sam to be with our club. His size, his skating, his physicality are elements we feel our team could use.’’
And with the departure of Tyler Pitlick, Derek Grant and Nate Thompson to free agency, the Flyers probably could use some help on the front lines.
Fletcher indicated if the AHL does get going, Morin possibly could move back to defense.
“He’s been working hard on this transition,’’ Fletcher said. “We think there’s a realistic chance he can positively impact our team in that role.’’
The GM revealed head coach Alain Vigneault and assistant coach Ian Laperriere came up with the idea and, on paper, it looks like a good idea. It gives the Flyers more physical presence in the attacking corners and in front of the opposing nets.
“Having a little bit more size and physicality up front is an area we felt we needed to address,’’ Fletcher said. “You’re looking for players who can bring that element of play.
“Sam is a big man who can skate, shoot the puck, he understands the game defensively. That’s a big part of the game when you’re playing in a ‘bottom six’ role. Sam was open to it. He hasn’t played a lot of hockey, he wants to do what ever he can to play.’’
Morin sounds excited about reinventing his career.
“I was a forward my first couple years of minor hockey but I switched to defense pretty quick,’’ Morin said. “When they (Vigneault, Laperriere) asked me about it, I was a little bit shocked but after talking to my agent, I figured it was something I need to try.’’
Almost every day he studies videotape to learn more about playing left wing.
“Obviously I did all this rehab because I wanted to keep playing hockey,’’ Morin said. “Just to have a shot to be here. I’m back on track. I just have to work hard; to be back in the rehab room with the boys, it’s so much more fun.’’
Morin admits he’s going to need some time to shake off the rust. He’s only played 28 games total since the start of the 2017-18 season.
“I need to play,’’ he said. “I feel like every day I’m getting better. I got a couple goals today (in Thursday’s intrasquad scrimmage). I’m just enjoying my time here.
“My body isn’t the same it was after two ACLs but I’m working hard to be ready. I’m ready to do this.’’