For the second straight week, Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher addressed the media. There were some typical announcements, one on an injury update for a goalie prospect and the news that the training camp roster would be released on Saturday.
But there was also a very unexpected nugget that Fletcher revealed: Sam Morin is switching to left wing.
No, that is not a typo. The rugged 6’6” former first-round pick is attempting his return from a second torn ACL. His career hangs in the balance. He knows it. This could be his last chance with the Flyers and last chance to make an NHL roster.
“When AV asked me, it was a few months ago. I didn’t know if we were going to have an American League or even if they were going to play, so I needed to have a plan because I’m fighting for my career right now,” Morin said. “I’m fighting for another job. Obviously I did all this because I wanted to keep playing hockey. I am really excited honestly. Just to have a shot. Just to be here. Just to be at camp right now. If you look at last year at the same time, I was on crutches. I was doing some rehab. I was not in a good spot mentally and physically. Now, I’m back on track. I got to work hard and I’m going to enjoy it. I’m just really happy to be back with boys and not be in the rehab room. It’s so much more fun to play hockey again.”
“I think it’s going to be a challenge no matter what we do. He hasn’t played a lot of hockey in the last three years. We’re pretty deep on defense right now. With the uncertainty surrounding the American League, we feel this is the best opportunity for Sam to be with our club,” Fletcher said. “Certainly his size, his skating and his physicality are elements that we feel our team could use. In an ideal world if the American League is going, you could maybe have him get in some reps on defense and grow his game. At some point that could become a reality again. For right now, to have Sam a part of our group, that size and that physicality. He’s been working hard for a couple months now on this transition and working at it. We think there’s a realistic chance he can positively impact our team in that role.”
It’s an interesting experiment with Morin, who said he is modeling his game after players like Matt Martin, and watching a lot of film.
Fletcher wasn’t wrong in mentioning Morin’s tough task of playing among the group of defensemen currently on the roster. With Shayne Gostisbehere, Mark Friedman and Egor Zamula all in the system behind the assumed top six of the group, Morin was becoming more of an afterthought.
The Flyers have depth at forward, but a lot of it is inexperienced – many first or second-year players. Perhaps that gives Morin more of a chance, but he’ll have to really earn it in camp.
“I think we’ll be able to spend a little more time on competition and scrimmaging versus just drills and teaching,” Fletcher said. “Hopefully that will allow us to get our conditioning back quicker, get into game situations a little quicker and we’ll all be on the same page. There’s going to be challenges for every team. I like our group. We have real good depth and you’re going to need it this year. That’s what it may come down to. Every team is going to deal with injuries and illness and uncertainty. I think the more players you can seamlessly put in your lineup, the better off you will be. I do think that’s one of our strengths.”
“I can’t say I am where I was before all those injuries because it would be a lie. I need some ice time. I need to practice. I need to play. I need to play for sure,” Morin said. “Just having the training camp is going to be great for me. Even right now, we’re having some scrimmages and I feel every day I’m getting a little bit better. I got a couple goals today so I was happy about that. I’m just enjoying my time here. It’s so fun to be back with the boys. My body is not the way it was before obviously with two ACLs. I’m working hard off the ice with good warm-ups to be ready. I’m just doing everything I can control and I don’t think about anything else.”
We’ll start to get a sense of how this goes on Monday when the players hit the ice as a group for the first time.
In addition to the news on Morin, Fletcher also announced that Kirill Ustimenko had surgery to repair a torn labrum and will be out for four-to-five months, effectively ending his 2020-21 campaign before it even started. Ustimenko got some valuable minor-league time last season and was prepared to be one of the goalies waiting in the wings. Instead, he will spend the year recovering and rehabbing.
As for the camp roster, Fletcher said everyone participating has arrived and is expected to be ready to go from the start. The roster will be revealed in full on Saturday, one day before the team undergoes physicals ahead of camp and two days before taking the ice.