Philadelphia Flyers

Big Samuel Morin stands tall at blue line

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Big Samuel Morin stands tall at blue line

The collision came on the side boards during Tuesday’s final day of the Flyers' development camp at the Skate Zone.

Prospect Samuel Morin, a 6-foot-7 defenseman, tangled with Travis Sanheim, the Flyers' first-round pick from last month’s draft.

This was a drill involving all the defensemen.

Both went down hard. Both got up slowly.

For a split-second it must have been like déjà vu for Morin, who ruptured his left Achilles' tendon last spring when a much smaller (relatively speaking) player tumbled onto him after a board check.

“No, no, no, not like that,” Morin said, starting to laugh. “When I got injured, I hit the guy. It was a rebound off the boards and he fell on me.

“I don’t know what happened here. I try to go in front of the guy and I fell. I wasn’t scared what happened [Tuesday]. It’s part of the game.”

Sometime in the not-too-distant future we’re going to see regular collisions like the one we saw this week at camp involving Morin.

Except he’ll be expected to crush the other guy.

Morin, who turned 19 during this camp, has packed 224 pounds onto his 6-foot-7 frame. He's a man hiding inside a youngster’s body. And a monster, too.

“I trained hard,” he said of a three-year growth cycle that saw him add three inches in height and 51 pounds of muscle. He was 173 pounds in his first year of junior.

Let’s go back for a moment to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs this past spring. In the series finale, Morin, playing for Rimouski, slammed Blainville-Brosbriand’s Philippe Sanche into the boards.

There was a ricochet effect no one anticipated. Morin tumbled backwards and Sanche fell across his skate boot.

“A 5-foot-4 guy injured me,” Morin said incredulously. “I hit the guy … rebound … He sat on me. I did two shifts and then I could not play again.”

Soon after, Morin was sitting in the Flyers' press box watching the Rangers series with an enormous cast on his foot.

This camp was a test to see about Morin’s total recovery on his first attempt back on the ice. No issues with his skating, foot pain or anything. He’s fully healthy and ready for junior play this fall.

Needless to say, a relief to the Flyers.

“From last year to this year, you can tell he got a lot bigger,” said Chris Pryor, the Flyers' director of scouting. “He’s more confident. He’s making progress.”

Kjell Samuelsson, who is director of development for all defensive prospects, worked with Morin last season, teaching him the defensive aspects of stick play.

That Samuelsson was very much like him as a player –- tall (6-6) with an enormous wingspan -- made it easier for Morin to grasp what he was being taught.

How ironic, however, that Morin feels the biggest improvement in his overall game from being drafted a year ago was his offensive play -- seven goals, 31 points -- not defensive.

“I think my play with the puck, my passes, my offensive game is better than it was last year,” he said. “My shot. I think I improved a lot things. My skating, too.”

The Flyers love his get-it-done attitude.

“He’s got the right frame of mind and the right attitude to make himself continually get better,” Pryor said.

Morin is in no hurry to make the NHL roster. He said he’ll pay his dues as long as the organization feels it’s necessary.

Here’s where it gets tricky. He is very different than Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg. As such, he really isn’t competing against them directly to make the roster.

He will be a true defensive defenseman, hopefully mean and nasty like Pronger with power-play attributes.

That makes him a bit of a specialist for one spot on the roster, whereas other defensive prospects are competing for similar spots among themselves.

Samuelsson shakes his head when he talks about Morin.

“Size, wingspan,” Samuelsson said. “We need to let him develop at his own speed.”

The Flyers would like Morin to play the right point instead of the left a bit more often. Morin is left-handed.

“I play more on the left side, for sure, but on the power play I play on the right side,” he said. “Like all left-handed defensemen, I like to play on the left side.”

Morin could be with the Phantoms next spring when his junior season ends.

“I'll go step by step right now and make a good impression,” Morin said. “It’s a process. I'm gonna listen to what the coaches and what [Ron Hextall] tell me. I’ve got to accept that.”

10 observations from Flyers' 1st week of training camp

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10 observations from Flyers' 1st week of training camp

VOORHEES, N.J. — Four games down, four more to go.

One big round of cuts and a much earned day off.

Friday marked the midway point of the Flyers' preseason schedule (1-1-2), and as we wrap up the first week of training camp, here are my 10 observations so far.

1. The Frontrunners
With a rookie game and three preseason games in the books, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg have displayed the poise and calmness required of rookies ready to make the jump from the AHL to the NHL. Morin doesn't overreact to situations, which is a credit to his maturation process and Hagg has displayed a steady presence playing on the right side, which is key considering a number of left-handed shots on the Flyers' blue line.

Travis Sanheim continues to make strong gains, showing improvement from his rookie game to the most recent preseason game against the Bruins. While you can't help but admire Sanheim's offensive skill set — he scored the Flyers' only goal Thursday — I still see some holes in his game defensively that would be a concern once the season starts.

For the most part, Morin and Hagg have been solid in that department. With all that said, I already feel better about this defense than I did last season with veterans Michael Del Zotto, Mark Streit and Nick Schultz.

2. Top-line ready
This may sound odd, but with all of the attributes that winger Oskar Lindblom brings to the Flyers, I can't help but be impressed with his commitment to defense and a strong two-way game coming straight out of the SHL. In Thursday's game against the Bruins, midway through the second period, Lindblom hustled back in the Flyers' zone to break up a potential 2-on-1 and then drew a penalty in the process. Defensively, Lindblom is considerably better than where Travis Konecny was at this point a year ago, and that dedication to his defensive play is why you can trust him on the team's top two lines. Offensively, he's been active and he'll start producing points eventually.

3. Power play will be just fine
Instead of getting frustrated that the Flyers' power play finished a whopping 0 for 9 Thursday in Boston, including six and a half minutes without a single shot, I view it a little differently. Coming into this season, Dave Hakstol's emphasis centered around being a tougher, battle-tested team for their opponents. Their first few days of training camp reflected that. I view the Bruins game as a Flyers team that outworked the opposition and that resulted in the power-play opportunities. A big part of evaluating the preseason part of the process is establishing good work habits and the Flyers are doing that. From what I've seen in practice, Hakstol and Co. have spent zero time working on power-play setups and puck movement.

There's still plenty of time to cover that aspect as we're still two and a half weeks away from the season opener in San Jose. Besides, power plays go through peaks and valleys throughout the course of the season. I'd rather it stink now than in November.

4. If Giroux looks quicker, you’re right 
Thursday marked Claude Giroux's first preseason action for fans to see how the captain looks after a strong summer of training camp and what he termed "getting back to the basics." If you followed him around the ice during practice, he certainly doesn't look like a player who has lost a step. In fact, the Flyers' conditioning staff ran a series of pre-camp tests that determined speed, conditioning and VO2 (body's ability to consume oxygen).

One of the evaluations was the "repeated shift" test, where skaters start at the goal line, skate to the blue line, stop, return to the goalie crease, skate to the other end around the two circles and finish at center ice. Giroux was one of the team's fastest in this particular drill, and as I clocked him, he was a good half second faster than his teammates who were out there with him.

5. Has Patrick earned his place?
If you believed it was a foregone conclusion that No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick was a bonafide NHLer and his roster spot was secure, general manager Ron Hextall has provided a reality check on more than one occasion. For beginners, I think Patrick has handled himself tremendously with everything a 19-year-old rookie has to deal with in the transition from junior hockey to the NHL, not to mention overcoming major surgery during the offseason. As we’ve seen, Patrick knows the game, he knows where to be on the ice and I’ve yet to see him make a high-risk, low percentage play in a game. I’m still left wondering, as I’m sure Hextall is, does he have another gear? Preseason is played at one speed, the regular season is another notch and the playoffs are 60 minutes at the highest intensity. Is Patrick the difference between the Flyers making the playoffs? No, but I think his addition gives the team more talent and balance within the lineup. This next week will be a crucial one for the rookie.

6. Fourth-line competition heats up
Taylor Leier made a profound statement Wednesday and entered the conversation with his two-goal game in Lehigh Valley. I’ve admired Scott Laughton’s dedication throughout camp and even prior as one of the few guys who was skating nearly every day with teammates in the week leading up to camp. I had heard about the refinements Laughton had made last season in Lehigh Valley and now, we’ve seen it so far in the preseason. Right now, this horse race is on the backstretch at Belmont Park and with three games over the next four days starting Monday, it’s time to see some of these guys go to the whip and pick up the pace. Does Matt Read have some giddy-up? If I had to assemble my fourth line right now, I’d have Michael Raffl on the left side, Laughton in the middle and Leier on the right side, but give it a week it can certainly change.

7. Stickin’ it to the guys
One week into the preseason and I’ve already seen more slashing than Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th movie franchise (there were 12 in the series and I think I stopped after the third one). In Wednesday’s game in Allentown, the Flyers were whistled for two slashes on their first two shifts. Thursday in Boston, there were a total of seven slashing penalties. The referees are sending a strong message, but let’s slash the number of calls. I’ll get more into this at a later time, but right now, between the slashing penalty and the faceoff violations, it’s really … really slowing down the pace of play in the preseason.

8. Goaltending appears solid
Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, two completely different goalies with two contrasting styles, should give the Flyers stability and less drama in net. Elliott’s positioning is reminiscent of the manner in which Henrik Lundqvist (no, it’s not a direct comparison) likes to play, which is deep in the crease. Elliott doesn’t challenge shooters in the way Steve Mason would come out of the net and take away the angle, but Elliott was very calm in net with no wasted movement against the Bruins. I don’t think the drills the Flyers have run early in camp have been “goaltender friendly,” but they’ve adapted. Elliott was very sound in his preseason debut as was Neuvirth on Wednesday in Lehigh Valley. Both netminders already have a good working relationship as they’ve been accustomed to a goaltending platoon throughout their careers.

9. Myers, not quite ready, just yet
It was a real long shot to think defenseman Philippe Myers would make the Flyers' roster out of camp, but there were strong vibes regarding Myers, especially after TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie tweeted back in January, “Based on what I saw at WJC, Myers looks NHL ready or close to it.” Well, the only way you can gauge that level of readiness is against NHL competition. Myers didn’t look out of place at all, but he’s still young — he won’t turn 21 until January — and there’s still room for growth in his game. He had the glaring turnover against the Islanders, which led to John Tavares’s overtime winner, but Tavares has a way of making even the best players in the league look foolish. One of the more interesting pairings during camp was when Hakstol had Myers together with Provorov, a lefty-righty combination. Don’t be surprised if that combo is a mainstay for years to come.

10. Kosorenkov deserves a contract
As one of 18 cuts Thursday morning, right winger Ivan Kosorenkov proved he’s worthy of an entry-level contract. Whether he receives that from the Flyers or another team in the league remains to be seen. Kosorenkov is the latest argument of how the Flyers could benefit from a two-round entry draft expansion. There’s a lot of quality talent that goes unselected and Kosorenkov is proof of that. He had a strong development camp and followed that up with a solid rookie game paired with Mikhail Vorobyev. Kosorenkov has that low center of gravity where scouts and coaches like to say “he’s good on his skates.” I compared his lower trunk to that of Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko. Kosorenkov scored 34 goals last season for Victoriaville in the QJMHL, and I’ll be very eager to see what kind of numbers he can post this season. 

Flyers suffer OT preseason loss to Bruins, but see strong first impression from Brian Elliott

Flyers suffer OT preseason loss to Bruins, but see strong first impression from Brian Elliott

BOX SCORE

BOSTON — The last time Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott started a game, things ended quickly and didn’t end well.

Starting for the Calgary Flames in Game 4 of a Western Conference first-round series last April against the Anaheim Ducks, Elliott gave up one soft goal on three shots and was pulled 5:38 into a 3-1 series-ending loss.

It was only preseason, but Elliott made a Flyers debut that helped him forget that lackluster performance and get off to a fresh start with his new team Thursday.

Elliott stopped all 18 shots he faced during his two periods on the ice in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins at TD Garden (see observations).

“Yeah, it felt pretty good,” Elliott said. “Just trying to see pucks and basically get acclimated in a game situation. We haven’t seen that in camp at all. So playing a game is fun, to get back in there, you forget how actually fun it is to play a game.”

The Flyers signed Elliott to a two-year, $5.5 million contract on July 1 for more than just fun. They want him to combine with Michal Neuvirth to give them the type of successful goaltending tandem they’ve lacked for a while.

Elliott, in turn, wants to prove they were wise to move on from Steve Mason and bring him in. Elliott had some highlights during his season with the Flames, including an 11-game winning streak and a 2.16 goals-against average and .927 save percentage over his last 21 games of the regular season. In the playoffs, he was a bust with an 0-3 record and .880 save percentage.

In addition to getting back into action, Elliott wanted to impress his new team.

“A little bit. You just want to play the same anyways, doesn’t matter what team you’re on or how long you’ve been with the guys,” he said. “But for sure when it’s your first time, you want to make a good impression. You only get one first impression, right. But it’s just a stepping stone, working towards that first game of the season here.”

The Flyers had several power plays early in the first period and Elliott wasn’t tested much until he gloved a shot from Bruins forward Anders Bjork on a 3-on-2 at 8:46.

After a television timeout, the Bruins put more pressure on the Flyers and Elliott remained sharp. He blocked away a point shot from Brandon Carlo and then gloved Bjork’s attempt on the rebound from the slot at 9:18.

Elliott made 10 saves in the first period.

During a power play early in the second period, Elliott had to be at his best as the Bruins kept the puck in the attacking zone for the first 90 seconds. Elliott made five saves during the penalty kill, including two difficult ones on Bruins center Patrice Bergeron from around the slot.

The Flyers' attack picked up the pace in the second half of the second period and took some of the heat off Elliott. He had earned the respite and then coach Dave Hakstol switched to Alex Lyon to start the third.

Hakstol has seen Elliott live up to the Flyers’ expectations so far in camp and in his preseason debut.

“I think he got in early and I just think I’ve seen every day at camp him kind of building his game,” Hakstol said. "I don’t think he tried to come in with a finished product on Day 1. I think he kind of started on the ground floor of building his game, obviously, after a good summer. And every day he seemed to ... kind of build his game. His last couple of days of practices have been really good, really clean and he carried that into the game tonight. So it’s a good start for him. It’s nice to see that.”