Is there room for Laughton in Flyers' lineup?

Is there room for Laughton in Flyers' lineup?
May 22, 2014, 11:30 am
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Scott Laughton was drafted by the Flyers with the 20th-overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft. (USA Today Images)

Scott Laughton will be a player to watch when the Flyers open training camp in a few months. But is there even room for him in the lineup?

That will be for new general manager Ron Hextall to decide. CSN’s John Boruk recently sat down with Hextall and asked him where Laughton fits in the team’s plans.

“That's going to play out in training camp,” Hextall said. “The one thing I don't even like when hockey people talk about their team in next year, this year, coming up in September and saying 'OK, Player X is on it and Player Y is on it and Player Z is on it.’

“No, these are the players that are on it, these guys got to work their way on it. So all these young guys are going to have to come in and have great camps and then we'll see if we think it's best for their development.”

Laughton, you may recall, was selected by the Flyers with the 20th-overall pick of the 2012 draft. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder isn’t overly flashy, but plays a strong two-way game. He’s also well-respected by his coaches and teammates for his leadership qualities on and off the ice.

However, it will be an uphill battle for Laughton to crack the lineup as the Flyers have a logjam at the center position. With Claude Giroux, Vinny Lecavalier, Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn already in the middle, Laughton will have to do something to prove he can contribute regularly at the NHL level.

If you took a quick glance at his junior numbers, you’d probably assume Laughton is an offensive dynamo. He put up 40 goals and 47 assists in 54 games in the Ontario Hockey League in 2013-14 and added 11 more points in nine playoff games for the Generals.

Don’t let those numbers fool you. Laughton was a bigger, more polished skater than most of his competitors last year. It was his third season with Oshawa and he used his experience to his advantage.

We’ve seen firsthand with Couturier that offensive brilliance at the junior level doesn’t always translate to the NHL. Laughton does not project to be an offensive force, but he could be a guy who puts some points on the board. What really separates him from other prospects is his defensive prowess. He sees the ice very well and is a strong penalty killer. Some have even gone as far to compare him to former Flyer Mike Richards.

Laughton has five games of NHL experience to his name. He made the Flyers out of the team’s abbreviated training camp in 2012-13 before being loaned back to Oshawa. He also played six games with the Phantoms at the end of the 2013 campaign.

If Laughton stumbles at camp, he’ll likely find himself wearing a Phantoms sweater at the beginning of next season.

“I'm not afraid to send a young guy down even if he had a real good camp to get a little bit of seasoning in the minors,” Hextall said.

When Hextall was promoted to GM earlier this month, he vowed to put an emphasis on developing the Flyers’ younger players and to build his team from within (see story). He plans to be patient with prospects as opposed to acquiring players brought up in other teams’ systems.

Hextall, like every NHL GM, has a handful of crucial decisions to make this offseason. He said the team’s first priority is inking Schenn to a new deal (see story). Schenn just completed the final year of his entry-level contract and is a restricted free agent.

One of the more difficult situations facing Hextall is what to do with Lecavalier. The veteran forward was inconsistent in his first season wearing orange and black and found himself buried in the depth chart at times. A back injury also slowed him down and a failed experiment at playing on the wing didn’t do much for his confidence either.

What does that mean for Laughton? If Schenn leaves in free agency, that may open a door for the soon to be 20-year-old. And, it’s unclear how the Lecavalier situation will pan out.

One thing is certain: Hextall doesn’t plan on making a big splash.

“The thing you can't forget here is Homer [Paul Holmgren] has done a really good job, he's put a lot of good pieces in place,” Hextall said (see video). “So, I'm not going to come in here and start moving pieces just so I put my signature on the team. I like our team, I like our players, I like our people.

“There's some areas where I think we can get better, I have a vision of how we can get better. I think our development of young players can improve and that's going to be a focus of mine. That's not going to be seen out in the public, it might be two, three, four years before - hopefully - it comes to fruition.”

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