We saw it coming, but it still caught some of us by surprise.
On Wednesday afternoon the Philadelphia Flyers sent rookie defensemen Sam Morin to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Morin spent the first four games of the season on the roster, but did not get into the lineup. He’ll now get a chance to play top-pair minutes in the AHL.
Morin is NHL ready, and likely could’ve cracked most opening night lineups across the league, but he simply is not a fit on the Flyers roster right now.
Keeping Morin on the roster to start the season didn’t necessarily hurt him that much. He only missed two Phantoms games, and was given a chance to see what the NHL atmosphere is like. It would’ve been nice to see him get into a game, but having him on the roster and traveling with the team as insurance if Shayne Gostisbehere wasn’t 100% after his injury to end the preseason, or if another defenseman got hurt, was well worth it.
Having Morin as that insurance, instead of just Brandon Manning, also showed that the Flyers value Morin over Manning right now. If there was an injury on the trip they wanted Morin to be there fill in, even if that meant missing two Phantoms games.
Not getting Morin into a game is a bit more questionable. Unless the Flyers were set on sending Morin down, and informed him of that, there would be no harm in getting him into a game. Perhaps they wanted to show confidence in Travis Sanheim after his shaky first game and Robert Hagg, since he had a solid first four games.
It all comes back to fit.
Morin is a better defenseman than MacDonald, Manning, and arguably Sanheim or Hagg. However, Morin does not fit on the roster right now.
Morin, a left-handed shot, is strictly a left defenseman. Ivan Provorov strictly plays the left side as well, with Gostisbehere and Sanheim also being left-handed shots that can play both sides. Both prefer the left side as left-handed shots, however. Gostisbehere was thrown back on the right for a few preseason games with Morin, and we could see in that in the future.
Hagg is a left-handed defenseman that is absolutely comfortable playing both sides, which gives him a leg up. He, Radko Gudas, and MacDonald are the three right defensemen on the roster right now.
The Flyers could opt to move Gostisbehere back to the right side and pair him with Morin, moving Hagg up with Provorov and MacDonald to the press box or AHL, but that comes back to the rookies vs. veterans argument. The Flyers have two rookies on their defense already, as well as a sophomore in Provorov and third-year NHLer in Gostisbehere.
They’re already a young group. Experience proves invaluable at times, and although he may not always show it, MacDonald is deemed reliable.
The Flyers don’t want to keep three rookie defensemen in the lineup, and don’t want to have a rookie sit in the press box for an extended period of time. Sending Morin down to the AHL makes sense in that regard.
But Morin doesn’t have much left to prove in the AHL. He has refined his game and is pretty much NHL ready. He’ll just have to play steady, top-pair minutes in the AHL while likely being a mentor to a first-year pro.
Morin will be the top left defenseman, ideally paired with one of two right-handed defensemen: Philippe Myers or Mark Friedman. Both Myers and Friedman are first-year pros and played well in their limited preseason action. Morin can help guide them and help them develop their games in the AHL.
Morin is being sent down to the AHL, but he shouldn’t be there for long.
Ron Hextall said during the preseason that we will be seeing all three rookie defensemen in game action this season. Hagg and Sanheim made the team, so that leaves Morin. Sending Morin down isn’t a huge deal, as we’ll see him sooner rather than later, and he’ll be the first defenseman called up if there is an injury, or if a veteran struggles.
I could see Morin being called up even within the month, definitely before December. If MacDonald struggles, Hagg gets his feet under him, and Gostisbehere is comfortable going back to the right side, we could see a Provorov – Hagg top pairing, and a Morin – Gostisbehere pairing below them.
The other big “if” is the injury bug. If any of the top-four defensemen get hurt we will see Morin. Even if one of the bottom-pair guys get hurt we will likely see Morin rather than Manning fill the gap.
Ultimately Morin is in the AHL due to fit, not skill. This isn’t a huge demotion for him and he will be back sooner than later.
David Cattai and I discussed this a bit when the news broke this afternoon, if you would prefer a short podcast on the matter as well.
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