In an announcement that came out of left field, the Flyers are moving Samuel Morin to left wing.
General manager Chuck Fletcher revealed the decision Thursday in a Webex call with reporters, saying that the 6-foot-7, 230-pound defenseman was shifting positions to start the season and that he will give the team some needed size and physicality up front.
“I’m really excited, honestly,” said Morin, 25, who has been working out and skating in the team’s Voorhees practice facility for several months. “Just to have a shot. Just to be at camp right now.”
Surgeries following two torn ACLs in his right knee, along with other injuries, limited Morin to just 28 games (eight with the Flyers, 20 with the AHL’s Phantoms) over the last three seasons.
“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,” Fletcher said. “We’re pretty deep on defense right now, and with the uncertainty surrounding the American Hockey League, we feel this is the best opportunity for Sam to be with the club. His size, his skating, and his physicality are elements we feel our team can use.”
If the AHL has a season, it won’t begin until Feb. 5 at the earliest.
“In an ideal world, if the American League is going, maybe you could have him getting some reps on defense and growing his game. And at some point, that could still become a reality again,” said Fletcher, adding there were “no health-related reasons” for the position switch. “But for now, to have Sam as part of our group and with that size and that physicality, [this is the best option]. He’s been working for a couple months on this transition and working at it, and we think there’s a realistic chance he can positively impact our team in that role.”
Morin, the Flyers’ first-round pick (11th overall) in the 2013 draft, said that when head coach Alain Vigneault first approached him a few months ago about the idea of switching positions, “I was a little bit shocked. After talking to my agent and the coaches about it, I kind of figured out it was something I needed to try in this situation right now.”
He said he has been watching lots of video and wants to model his game after that of the Islanders’ Matt Martin, a rugged 6-3, 220-pound left winger. Morin added he was “”fighting for my career right now. I’m fighting for another job.”
The top left wingers on the Flyers are Claude Giroux, Oskar Lindblom, James van Riemsdyk, and Michael Raffl. Scott Laughton played a lot of left wing last season, but he is expected to return to his natural position, center.
Fletcher said the idea to move Morin came from Vigneault and assistant Ian Laperriere.
“Certainly, having a little more size and physicality up front is an area we needed to address,” Fletcher said. “Sam is a big man. He can skate; he can shoot the puck. Obviously, he understands the game defensively, which is a big part of the game as well when you are playing in a bottom-six role.”
Morin was open to the move, Fletcher said.
“He wants to do whatever he can to play. I think this is an opportunity for him to get ice time and be with our club. He’s excited about it.”
Morin said Vigneault talked to him about the team’s being pushed around by the Canadiens and Islanders in the playoffs.
“I think you see in the playoffs, size is an important element to winning,” Fletcher said. “Having a physical component to your lineup is incredibly important. There’s certainly a lot of teams in our division that are big, physical teams. We think this will help us in that regard.”
Morin was on crutches at this time last year. “I was not in a good spot, mentally and physically,” he said. “Now I’m back on track.”
Now he’s preparing for training camp; the first on-ice session is Monday.
“I can’t say I am where I was before all those injuries because that would be a lie,” Morin said. “I need to play. I need some ice time. I need to play. ... 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 of goals today, so I was happy about that.”
Fletcher said promising goalie Kirill Ustimenko, who was ticketed to the Phantoms, had surgery two weeks ago to repair his hip and the expected recovery time was four to five months. ... The Flyers will announce their camp roster Saturday.