Scott Laughton, who averaged 11:31 of ice time in five games with the Flyers last season, skates at Flyers Skate Zone in Vorhees, N.J. during rookie camp Friday. (Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)
VOORHEES, N.J. -- It was Jan. 27. Scott Laughton was in Tampa, Fla.
He remembers it well. And he doesn’t want it to happen again.
“I remember the exact moment I was walking around and I got a call,” Laughton said. “And I just sat down with [GM Paul] Holmgren and talked about how I was going to go back to junior.”
Laughton, the center whom the Flyers selected 20th overall in the 2012 draft, learned he would be going back to the Oshawa Generals that day upon returning home from Florida. He wouldn't be staying with the Flyers for a sixth game.
There had been plenty of debate about whether Laughton, who averaged 11:31 on the ice and fit in seamlessly with the Flyers, would remain past the dreaded game No. 5. Per NHL rules, underage junior-level players can play nine games before a year is burned off their entry-level contracts. For last year’s lockout-shortened season, that number was cut to five.
In the end, the Flyers decided Laughton would be better served by playing top-six minutes and collecting time on special teams with the Generals. Even knowing the then-18-year-old would have spent a fair amount of time on the bench or in the press box had he stayed with the Flyers, the decision was a tough one.
“I think that he made a real strong impression on all of us,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “He proved that he could skate, he could compete, that he was smart enough to jump into a lineup like that and play games.
“Going back and getting another year and getting stronger and more experience at that level, but to be more mature, more physically mature, I think that only helps him coming back to this year."
Unfortunately for Laughton, most of the Flyers’ roster for the 2013-14 season is set. Fortunately, though, the coaches and front office liked a lot of what they saw from him last year, and he will be getting a lot of looks during this week’s rookie camp -- which opened Friday -- and next week’s full team camp.
Laughton knows that. If any of the 26 participants in rookie camp make it to the Flyers' Oct. 2 season opener, chances are it will be him. And that's what he's trained for all summer, not just improving his strength and conditioning, but focusing on the areas of his game he knows he must take to the next level to succeed in the NHL.
He worked with a new trainer. He put on weight. He focused on improving his net presence.
“[I’m] definitely more confident, more comfortable,” he said. “I think I’m better in the offensive zone, definitely, and I think I’ve stuck with the defensive game -- I’m not cheating the puck or anything like that. I think staying on the offensive side, I’ve been better for sure.”
Though so much attention has been paid to the Flyers' defense and how the team is suddenly fully stocked -- if not overstocked -- on the blue line, the Flyers are particularly strong at center as well. Claude Giroux, Vincent Lecavalier, Sean Couturier and Max Talbot are all technically ahead of Laughton on the depth chart at center.
At least thus far, however, Laughton has refrained from playing around with the Flyers' lineup and imagining how and where he might fit into it.
“I don’t think I need to,” he said. “I think my job is clear here, to try to get a spot on the team, and that’s the ultimate goal. I don’t need to look at the roster and see what’s going on. I’ve just got to do my job every day, and I hope it works out.”
There have already been plenty of discussions about Laughton's future, and whether 2013 could be the year he makes the full transition from juniors to pro. There have been so many, in fact, that the Flyers' front office has already begun to consider whether it could be worth moving Laughton from center to left wing, just to keep him around.
"Paul and I talked about that, and I think that’s something that we’ll look at and consider through training camp here," Laviolette said. "But he’s a centerman, that’s his natural position, and he’s going to be given plenty of opportunity to play center here."
That's OK with Laughton. And so too is a move to left wing -- even though he's never played it before.
After all, he said, “the ultimate goal is clear: just to make this team.”