When the Flyers drafted Samuel Morin with the 11th overall pick of the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft, they did so with the knowledge that he was an intriguing bundle of raw materials. They knew there was going to be a multi-year process involved, even after Morin turned pro, to try to develop him into the type of player they envision.
Morin put forth strong showings in each of his first two NHL training camps, and was one of the final preseason cuts in 2014. This raised many fans' hopes and expectations that he would fast-track to the NHL. However, the organization's plan for him did not change. He played two additional seasons of junior hockey and each of the last two in the American Hockey League with the Phantoms.
"Sam is coming along at a steady pace. So far, he is developing as we hoped he would. There's definitely room to keep growing as a player, but we like what he's doing. No one is more committed to improving that Sam is. Along with his size and athleticism, his character is one of his biggest strengths," Flyers assistant general manager Chris Pryor said.
This season, Morin has taken further strides toward becoming a shutdown-caliber defenseman. On a more consistent basis than even in his promising rookie year with the Phantoms, Morin has shown the elements the Flyers want to see. The 6-foot- 7, 225 pound defenseman has above-average straight ahead mobility for a man his size, a mean streak, and underrated puck-moving ability. His defensive position and footwork has also improved over the course of the last two seasons.
"In my first year [in the pros] I was still adapting so I was still doing my juniors stuff that I was running everywhere," Morin said to the Morning Call in January.
"But [positioning], it's really important because when your positioning is good you don't have to over-skate. You don't get tired. That's a huge part of the game."
"Less is more" is a mantra that Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon, assistant coach Kerry Huffman and Flyers defenseman development coach Kjell Samuelsson have often stressed to Morin. In the past, he has sometimes been overaggressive in trying to make plays and ended up on the wrong side of the puck. When Morin keeps things simple and takes advantage of his size and reach, he is highly effective. He also has the ability to get the puck quickly to the forwards.
"As soon as he really identifies with that more he'll go from just being an even player to, he should be a huge plus player," Gordon said to the Morning Call.
When assessing the development of prospects, the Flyers tend to look at a much bigger overall picture than basic or "advanced" statistics.
While many fans tend to be stat-focused and it is true that there is some valuable information to be gleaned from statistical analysis, the development process is often viewed in qualitative terms as much or more than quantitative measures.
This is especially true for young defensemen. When tracking development, these are just some of the areas that get measured over the course of the season:
• Over multiple viewings, does the young player routinely make solid decisions and show good awareness? Can he consistently replicate making a good first pass, his coverage on a cross-over attack, his play in front of the net?
• If there was a mistake or a genuine bad game, how did the player respond the next time out? If he got beaten, does he adjust the next time the other team inevitably tries the same thing again?
• How did he perform on the bulk of his shifts over each given game?
• How does he handle shifts that are spent mostly in the defensive zone; with poise and a bend-but-don't-break mentality or does panic start to set in?
• Does he show discipline in avoiding needless penalties?
• How much advancement has he shown in his positional play without the puck? Has he also progressed with the puck?
• How much attention to detail does he pay in his preparations to play over the course of the long pro season: keeping up his practice habits, conditioning, etc.
All across the board, Morin made gradual but steady progress from the beginning to the end of his rookie pro season. When there were bumps in the road, he soon got back on track.
The youngster has continued to advance in year two, basically picking up from where he left off and then taking additional steps.
Morin is still a work in progress but has already come a long way from where he was entering his first Phantoms season. The Flyers remain as excited about his future upside as they were when he was drafted.