Laughton still battling for crowded center spot

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Laughton still battling for crowded center spot

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- When the most recent waive of cuts arrived, Scott Laughton was nervous.

All along, the 19-year-old center has been on the short list of young players expected to have a real shot at making the Flyers’ roster out of camp. But he wasn’t pleased at all with how he played in his first two preseason games last week.

When he learned cuts would be coming, Laughton was concerned his name would be among the more than two dozen players to leave the team before this weekend’s trip to Lake Placid.

“I think it’s always in the back of your mind,” he said. “I think you’re always thinking about it. Definitely in London I didn’t play the way I wanted to, and kind of got better in Toronto, but still not to where it needs to be.

“But I’m excited for the opportunity here and just want to get in some games and show what I can do.”

Coach Peter Laviolette didn’t have quite the same read on Laughton’s play against the Maple Leafs, saying the young center played “well” but agreeing that he does need to progress a bit more before he’s truly NHL ready.

“I think that there’s still another gear that he can find in his game,” Laviolette said. “When he came in last year, he was flying. He had played in lots of games when our team was just getting off the mark from a lockout. So it’s a bit of a different scenario for him -- he comes in on equal ground with everybody else.”

At Friday’s practice, Laughton skated on a line with Zac Rinaldo and Jay Rosehill. He is still far from a lock to make the team -- and, in fact, would likely have to unseat Adam Hall in order to claim a spot at center. He won’t earn ice time over, say, Claude Giroux or Vinny Lecavalier or Sean Couturier.

He has three more chances during preseason to show his stuff, though, and his goal is to prove to the Flyers that he can pick up where he left off with the team last year, when he played five games at the beginning of the season and fit in seamlessly. This year, he can play nine games before the Flyers must decide whether to keep him around or send him back to the OHL.

Through it all, he said, he won’t be thinking about how or where he fits into the roster, or what’s being said about him. Instead, he’s choosing to remain concentrated only on what he can control.

“I focus on me,” Laughton said, “doing what I can every day. I think if I can play the way I can, I think I’ll be here for the year.”

It’s no secret that the Flyers have somewhat of a logjam at center. The only obvious vacancy on the team is at left wing, for which Laughton’s name was circulated earlier this summer. It’s not outrageous, the thinking went, for a center to move over to the wing. Laughton said he was “open to the challenge.”

Instead, however, the battle for the opening at wing appears to be down to two new faces: Michael Raffl and Chris VandeVelde. The Flyers are giving Laughton every opportunity to succeed at the position he's played his entire life.

“Right now we’re leaving him at center,” Laviolette said. “We want to see how he does at that position instead of putting him somewhere where he’s not comfortable and then sticking him in one of these exhibition games coming up. [General manager] Paul [Holmgren] and I have not talked about that. It may have kicked around a table real quick, but there hasn’t been discussion as to make that move at this point.

“He’s a centerman, that’s where we picked him and drafted him. He’s at a camp right now with an opportunity to make the Flyers. We want to put him in the best position we can to show what he can do.”

Laviolette said he’s looking forward to seeing how Laughton plays in next week's exhibition games against the New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals, when the lineups will be mostly full of NHL players and not a heavier mix of veterans and minor-leaguers.

Until then, he agrees with Laughton's plans for the week ahead: staying focused.

“I think the best thing for him is to do what he’s doing," Laviolette said. "Keep his eye on the target and keep his nose down and work hard, and try to pick up what we’re saying, which he does.”

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

VOORHEES, N.J. — Maybe he saw some old video of how Chris Therien did it.
 
Or maybe Ivan Provorov just shrugged his 19-year-old shoulders and figured he’d do it his way.
 
Whatever the Flyers' rookie defenseman did, he shut down the ageless Jaromir Jagr during Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime victory against the Florida Panthers. 
 
Just like Therien used to do back in the day. 
 
Provorov frustrated Jagr into taking penalties. And when he wasn’t in the box for hooking the rookie, you could visibly see Jagr’s frustration across his face.
 
At one point, they were talking to each other on the ice. A Russian and a Czech. What was said?
 
“It stays in the game,” Provorov said with a smile Wednesday.
 
Provorov said he didn’t spend time watching a ton of video.
 
“We did our pre-scout in the morning,” he said. “That was it.”
 
Provorov, with help from centerman Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, held Jagr to one shot. His teammates were impressed.
 
“Unbelievable, a 19-year-old kid going against Jaromir Jagr,” Wayne Simmonds said. “I think he did a pretty good job. 
 
“I think he has done a great job all year long and he is only going to get better. If you watch him play, he is getting better and better, not every game but every shift.”
 
Provorov had an assist and two blocked shots, including a critical block on Reilly Smith that could have been a game-winner in overtime.
 
“Well we haven’t used him a lot in the 3-on-3 but we felt that it was time,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Again, coming off of a real solid night where he’s playing against really good players all night long, he continued that right through the OT. 
 
“The impressive thing on that play is the read that he made to make that block … I haven’t looked at it on the replay or on tape yet. But I think that Mase might have been over on it but that play that Provy made was potentially a game saving play right there.”
 
Provorov doesn’t make flashy plays. He just makes the steady play every time he needs to. At season’s start, he was struggling to get his shot off without being blocked. Now he finds space along the blue to better position himself to get his shot through. He thinks before he reacts.
 
Behind the net, he is one of the few Flyers defensemen who almost never loses a puck battle. It’s often hard to believe he’s as young as he is.
 
“He moves so well and makes good reads, he’s a very intelligent player,” Andrew MacDonald said. “He has great poise with the puck, and not just for a 19-year-old, but for any aged player. 
 
“Defensively he always seems to be in the right positions and communicates well. We were fortunate to have some time together in camp, and a few games. I feel like we picked up where we left off the past few games.”
 
Jagr’s assets are size, strength — especially his lower core — and a skill set of moves without blinding speed.
 
Thursday will present a new challenge for Provorov: Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer with 36 points. McDavid is all about youth and raw speed. 
 
“They’re different players, but it doesn’t matter,” Provorov said. “You take away time and space. Don’t give him time to get a lot of speed.”
 
This is another learning experience for Provorov. In a different age category. Hakstol credits assistant coach Gord Murphy for bringing Provorov up to speed at the NHL level.
 
“I think Murph has done a really good job in managing that progression along, most importantly, with Provy, managing it," Hakstol said.
 
“You can go back to the tell-tale sign of the tough night back in Chicago [third game]. That didn’t shake or rattle Provy in any way. He came back with pretty good determination the next day.
 
“You have to be an honest evaluator of your own game. I think Provy … whether it’s a real good night or a tough night, that allows you to keep an even keel and an even balance. I think that’s a real strength.”

Injury update
The Flyers on Wednesday placed left winger Matt Read on injured reserve and activated center Boyd Gordon. Gordon has been out since Nov. 3.