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September 21, 2016

Big, physical Morin trying to eventually find role in NHL

When he walks into a locker room, Samuel Morin stands out from his teammates. More specifically, he stands over them.

At 6-foot-7, the 21-year-old Quebec native towers over the typical hockey player. And in a way, that might be part of the reason that he won’t crack the 23-man roster three years after being drafted in the first round by the Flyers. With the game moving more toward speed and skill, there are questions if a player with Morin’s skillset fits best in the modern NHL.

It’s not totally dissimilar to the Sixers trying to fit a throwback post-up player (Jahlil Okafor) into the era of pace-and-space hoops. Coming to Morin’s defense on Wednesday, general manager Ron Hextall doesn’t feel like this is a matter of fitting a square peg into a round hole.

“First of all, Sammy skates well,” Hextall said. “Sam is not old school where he doesn’t skate very well. He moves well, he’s a big guy who has great range. You still have to get the puck back, so guys like Sammy are not going to go away. I think the guys that started to go away are the guys who aren’t very fleet of foot.”

Most observers agree with Hextall that Morin skates well for a man of his size, so the NHL speed shouldn’t be too overwhelming for him. It’s the skill and puck-moving part of the game where he tends to lag behind.

Morin made his debut at Lehigh Valley last season, and he watched Shayne Gostisbehere get called up to the Flyers and take the NHL by storm. He said he was happy for his teammate, but Morin understands that they play entirely different games.

"Fans are going to like me, but not because I’m scoring goals. They’ll like me because I crushed this guy in the corner and he’s not playing anymore.”

“I’m not Ghost,” Morin said. “I’m never going to be that flashy defenseman, that guy that plays the first PP. Fans are going to like me, but not because I’m scoring goals. They’ll like me because I crushed this guy in the corner and he’s not playing anymore.”

Morin, who has a fun personality, could become a fan favorite in time. He only managed 19 points in a team-high 76 games at Lehigh Valley in 2015-16, so you would imagine that he would be paired with an “offensive” defenseman moving forward. Hextall still thinks there is a role for Morin in a team’s top-six defenseman.

“Maybe back a few years, you had three guys in a defensive role,” Hextall said. “I think that’s evolved a little bit, but you still need guys like [that].”

For Morin to advance to and eventually succeed in the NHL, defense will have to be the calling card.

“If you ask everyone here [at rookie camp], if you go one-on-one with me, you don’t like it,” Morin said.

Wrapping it up

Later tonight, the Flyers will officially end rookie camp up on Long Island as the prospects will scrimmage against their counterparts in the New York Islanders system. The game will take place at the Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow, New York at 6:00 p.m.

Judging from morning skate, here is roughly what the forward lines will look like:

Connor Bunnaman – Anthony Salinitri – Travis Konecny
Tyrell Goulbourne – Danick Martel – Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Taylor Leier – Roman Lyubimov – Radel Fazleev
Samuel Dove-McFalls – Carsen Twarynski – Steven Swaveley

And the defense pairs:

Samuel Morin – Travis Sanheim
Ivan Provorov – Brennan Menell
Garrett McFadden – Reece Wilcox

In goal, Alex Lyon and Carter Hart are expected to split time. Fast-rising defenseman Philippe Myers and 2016 second-round pick Pascal Laberge will each be held out for precautionary reasons, per Hextall.

Salinitri, a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft, is used to playing with Konecny, as they are linemates with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. When asked about his personal goals for his first training camp, Salinitri gave a refreshingly realistic response.

“Just to turn some heads,” Salinitri said. “I was a later draft pick but you always want to impress who is watching, there’s going to be a lot of guys watching. I just want to prove to myself that I can compete with all these guys and have a good camp overall.”

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann