Based on scouting reports, highly touted defenseman Ivan Provorov, the Flyers' first-round pick in June, is the rookie with the best chance of cracking the lineup this season.

Not so fast, says Sam Morin, a 6-foot-6, 228-pound defenseman who has gained 23 pounds since the Flyers made him their No. 1 selection in 2013.

Morin, 20, said that when camp opens in Voorhees - rookies will be on the ice Sept. 14, while veterans will join them three days later - he will be in the best shape of his life and that he plans to make it difficult for the Flyers to send him to AHL Lehigh Valley.

"The goal," Morin said last week, "is to make the team this year."

A year ago, then-coach Craig Berube said Morin came close to opening the season with the Flyers. General manager Ron Hextall has since downplayed that notion. Morin prefers to go with Berube's assessment.

"Last year, I was one of the last cuts, so I think I have a good chance," Morin said in his thick French Canadian accent. "So I have to try to do the same."

Morin is a realist. He knows the Flyers have an overflow of experienced defensemen and that he would have to have a lights-out camp to earn a roster spot.

"I know I have more of a chance to go to the AHL as a first-year pro, but for sure I'm going to go to camp and give it everything because I want to make the team this year," he said. "And if not, I'll go with the Phantoms and try to play very well to get called up. My goal is to play in the NHL."

All summer, Morin has been working out and doing on-ice training with Ryan Podell, the Flyers' strength and conditioning coach.

"I've gained some muscle and lost some fat," said Morin, who is regarded as a shutdown defender. "So, it's been going pretty good. Ryan helps to push me in the gym."

In two junior seasons since he was drafted, Morin said he has improved his skating, bulked up, and "gained a lot of confidence" in his game. Last season, he performed brilliantly in the playoffs to help Rimouski win the QMJHL title.

"I think I'm more ready than I was two years ago and last year," Morin said.

Shayne Gostisbehere, 22, is another rookie defenseman moving up the organization's ladder. If he didn't tear the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last season, Gostisbehere might also be knocking on the NHL door.

The injury, however, seems to have pushed his timetable back. The speedy player they call "Ghost" will almost undoubtedly begin the season with the Phantoms.

"My knee feels good. I feel like it's 100 percent, and it's good to go," said Gostisbehere, a former Union College star who played just two games with the Flyers and five with the Phantoms last season before being sidelined Nov. 7. ". . . Injuries happen, and they're just part of the game, and right now my focus is just playing games. I haven't played a lot of games since college, and I just want to get out there - feel the game, make some plays, get hit, hit someone - and just have some fun out there."

The Phantoms defense could include top prospects such as Morin, Gostisbehere, and Robert Haag.

"We have a balance of veterans and young guys, and it's pretty cool to see," Gostisbehere said. "It's going to be a lot of fun with a young 'D' corps back there."

@BroadStBull