When the Flyers stepped up to the NHL Entry Draft podium on June 22, 2012, they selected Oshawa Generals forward Scott Laughton 20th overall. It was only their second first round pick in the previous four years thanks in part to the trade that brought Chris Pronger to Philadelphia. At the time, Laughton seemed like a promising young prospect, putting up well over a point-per-game during his four years in juniors, including 87 points in 54 games during the 2013-14 season.
When he got called up to the NHL in November of 2014, the expectations were still high for the then-21-year-old. Even though he had a fast start with the Phantoms, it became clear early on that he wasn’t ready to hang with the talent in the NHL. Laughton stuck around until mid-February before he was sent back down to the Phantoms. His 2014-15 season concluded with two goals and six points in 31 NHL games and 14 goals and 27 points in 39 games with the Phantoms.
Determined to improve, Laughton made the Flyers roster out of camp to start the 2015-16 season. He started the season on the third line seeing almost 14 minutes of ice time a game, but when the offense didn’t follow, he was dropped down to center the fourth line and his ice time was cut down to around eight minutes a game. He played 71 games for the Flyers, finishing with seven goals and 21 points in another disappointing season. He only played in three of the Flyers six playoff games after a vicious hit by John Carlson put him on the shelf for the rest of the series.
Ron Hextall banished Laughton to the Phantoms for the 2016-17 season with one simple mission, improve his two-way play. He only saw two NHL games in late November going pointless. He did, however, improve greatly in the AHL. While his offense didn’t develop like the team had hoped, he did record 19 goals and 39 points in 60 games. More importantly, his overall game stepped up drastically.
Laughton returned to the NHL to start the 2017-18 season and found his role in the bottom six as a solid defensive forward. He recorded a career high in goals with 10, though was pigeonholed by Dave Hakstol as a fourth liner and never got a chance to play with higher caliber players.
The 2018-19 season was a high point for Laughton right out of the gate. He was clearly one of the only players to find early season success and was rewarded for his strong effort. Laughton was averaging 15 minutes of ice time for much of the early season, but once again, his offensive output didn’t follow. He was dropped to about 10 minutes of ice time before Hakstol was fired in mid-December. Under coach Scott Gordon, who was responsible for developing Laughton in the AHL the season before, his ice time was bumped back up to 15 minutes and he was seeing more responsibility on the third line. He ended up finishing the 2018-19 season with a new career high in goals (12), assists (20), and points (32), and was rewarded with a new two-year, $4.6 million contract.
It’s easy to judge players based on their point totals, but it is harder to judge players based on the things the score column doesn’t say. Laughton’s increased defensive ability gave Scott Gordon faith to roll him in high pressure situations, and his energy and increased confidence was palpable. Scott Laughton recently celebrated his 25th birthday and window for a true breakout is closing fast. Even though he may not ever live up to the lofty expectations of his draft year, he has found his niche as a defensive minded forward.
The 2012 draft was one of the weakest draft on recent years. Looking back, Scott Laughton’s selection at 20 actually turned out to be a solid pick. With guys like Nail Yakupov, Griffin Reinhart, and Zemgus Girgensons drafted before him, and only about a dozen worthy players drafted after him, Laughton should not be considered a bust. Scott Laughton may not be the traditional first round pick, but now six years in to his NHL career, he has found his place in the Flyers lineup. As the team continues to improve around him, his chance for improvement only gets higher.
Scott Laughton has fought hard to make it to the Flyers roster and we likely haven’t seen the best he has to give. If Laughton can finally find a scoring touch, he could still turn into one of the better two-way forwards in the league. As the Flyers are still figuring out their future, it is a no-brainer that Laughton should not only be a part, but a key to the Flyers returning to their former glory.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
Photo credit: MSN.com