Right now, the Philadelphia Flyers have something that they have not had in a long time: Depth in terms of defense prospects.
Shayne Gostisbehere has been the most notable of the prospects. The Flyers 3rd round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft was one of college hockey’s most explosive defensemen this season and received some Hobey Baker buzz (the Hobey Baker award is for the best NCAA men’s hockey player). Gostisbehere’s team, Union College, will play in the Frozen Four in Philadelphia on April 10-12.
Robert Hagg, the 41st overall pick last June, has recently made headlines with his decision to play in North America. At the end of his season in Sweden, Hagg signed an amateur tryout contract and joined the Phantoms for the remainder of this season. His entry level contract will kick in next season and he is expected to stay with the Phantoms. He has no goals and one assist with Adirondack and has been predominantly paired with Mark Alt.
Speaking of Alt, the most under the radar defense prospect, he has had a relatively solid year with the Phantoms. The 22 year old defenseman has four goals and 18 assists in 68 games with the Phantoms. He may be given the chance to push for a roster spot on the NHL club at training camp, or he could start next season with the Phantoms. His size and mobility will make an NHL jump easier for him.
Samuel Morin had not been in the Flyers organization for more than five minutes before he was a polarizing figure. The Flyers chose Morin with the 11th overall pick while Morin did not crack the top 20 in most pre-draft rankings. On top of that, Morin is 6’6″ defenseman who was pegged as a future shut down defender, something the Flyers always seem to have. With names like Nikita Zadorov, Ryan Pulock, and Joshua Morrissey still on the board, the pick seemed questionable.
During the lead-up and aftermath of the draft, the word surrounding Morin was ‘raw’. According to Patrick King,
Morin has such raw potential that there is no real consensus ranking among the scouting community
Later in that same article David Burstyn added that,
Everything about Samuel Morin right now is just raw, but at six-foot-six, 205, he’s probably going to play at six-foot-six, 240 and those guys play.
Morin is big, has an active stick, and is a good skater for his size. He plays against the opponents best forwards while making a solid first pass out of the defensive zone. By all accounts, Morin has continued to develop in each of these areas. He is continuing to improve his skating, passing, and defensive awareness. The two big question marks surrounding Morin are his offensive game and his penalty minutes.
In the 2013 QMJHL playoffs Morin had a breakout offensive performance. He had a goal and six assists in six playoff games. During the preceding season, Morin only had four goals and 12 assists for 16 points in 46 games (0.35 points per game).
This season Morin has taken a big step forward offensively. Morin scored seven goals and added 24 assists for 31 points in 54 games (0.57 points per game). So far, in the 2014 QMJHL playoffs Morin has four goals and four assists for eight points in six games. Including last seasons playoffs, Morin has 46 points in his last 66 junior games (0.7 points per game).
Can this sudden uptick in offensive production translate to production at the professional level? There certainly is that possibility. Although Morin will likely never be a high end point producer in the NHL, he should certainly be able to contribute if he continues to develop. Here is a look at what some productive NHL defensemen did during the season before they were drafted and the season after they were drafted.
Samuel Morin 2013 12-13 46 16 0.35 13-14 54 31 0.57 +0.22 Shea Weber 2003 02-03 70 18 0.26 03-04 60 32 0.53 +.027 James Wisniewski 2002 01-02 62 36 0.58 02-03 52 52 1.00 +0.42 Kris Letang 2005 04-05 70 32 0.46 05-06 60 68 1.13 +0.67
Note: All stats are from one of the three junior leagues, OHL, WHL, or QMJHL. Also, Morin plays a different game from guys like Wisniewski and Letang, but that does not negate the fact that players develop at a different pace, which is the point I am trying to make. I am using the chart to illustrate that even players who do not produce huge offensive numbers prior to being drafted can develop an offensive game at the pro level.
The chart above does not take playoff games into account. The fact that Morin improves his game in the playoffs is another positive to condsider. To come up big on the biggest stage is something that cannot be taught.
Morin’s offensive development should not be a point of concern. Both Hagg and Gostisbehere project a higher offensive upside than Morin while Morin seems content to develop his offensive game at his own pace. He seems to be on track to have at least mild offensive success. The area of great concern is Morin’s penalty minutes.
In 162 regular season games in the QMJHL Morin has accumulated 295 penalty minutes (1.82 min/game). In 22 playoff games Morin has 42 penalty minutes (1.91 min/game). Morin’s “meanness” was one of the most talked about aspects of his game on draft day.
Being physical and mean can be a good thing for a defenseman. If a player is going to face the top players on the opposing team, he has to have a mean streak. However, there is a difference between being competitive and being stupid. If Morin wants to succeed in the NHL, he will have to keep his PIM’s down and learn to pick his spots.
In terms of tracking his development, it will be important to see where his offensive numbers and penalty minutes go next year. If he is juniors, he should have a large jump in offensive production (on a similar scale, not similar numbers, to Laughton this season) because of his age and physical dominance. He should look to decrease his penalty minutes as he matures as a player.
What to do with Morin?
There has already been debate among Flyers fans as to what to do with Morin next season. Because of a stellar training camp, there are some who believe he should be on the opening night Flyers roster. Others, advocating patience, believe that he should be sent back to juniors as fast as possible.
I tend to side with the second group, however, this is an unusual case. I would like to see Morin given a 3-5 game look at the NHL level before being sent back to the QMJHL. His development looks to be on pace, but he should not be pushed too fast. Therefore, a short look at the highest level of hockey will give Flyers brass a chance to gauge his development while making him hungry to be an NHLer as soon as possible.
Even if he was a reach at #11, Sam Morin has become a high quality prospect. As Flyers scouts said in Episode 1 of Flight Plan, he will be a great player “if he hits.” So far, there is no reason to believe that he will, or will not, hit. His development seems to be on schedule and his playoff numbers jump right off the page. A man of his size may take extra time to develop, but the Flyers look to have found themselves a top-4 two way defenseman for the future. The key is to stay patient.