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.”
Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
With the Flyers returning from the bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.
Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
Today’s question: Will we see Ron Hextall dip into the farm system before season's end?
This is a tough question because it has layers, some of which are not easy to peel. According to CapFriendly.com, the Flyers have about $377,545 in cap space. They are not in a cap-friendly position, which ties Hextall’s hands in any move he’d want to do.
The Flyers, as currently constructed, are a fringe playoff team with a long-term plan, and Hextall has shown no signs of deviating from his vision. That means no big shakeups. It also means, however, that dipping into the farm system is a legitimate option for Hextall. He has said in the past he’d make room for kids if they are NHL ready, and he has. He has to ask himself, would bringing up a prospect at Lehigh Valley improve the Flyers?
Perhaps it would. The Flyers do have an influx of young blood on the way, perhaps as early as next season. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities to see three more kids on the roster when 2017-18 begins. DefensemenRobert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim are knocking at the door, and then there is Philippe Myers, too. The Flyers have three expiring contracts on the books, and they will not block kids with Band-aids.
But the question is this season. Would Hagg, Morin or Sanheim upgrade the Flyers’ defense? Hagg is “just about NHL-ready,” Morin stuck around training camp longer than expected and Sanheim has found his footing in the professional ranks. It certainly would not hurt to bring one of them up, but a corresponding move would have to be made.
That would mean Hextall would have to find a trading partner to clear space and room on the 23-man roster for one of the kids. Michael Del Zotto, Mark Streit and Nick Schultz will all be unrestricted free agents come July 1. Del Zotto and Streit could be attractive options for teams at the trade deadline, if the Flyers decided clear way for a prospect.
However, I don’t see the Flyers dipping into Lehigh Valley unless injuries start hitting the NHL roster. There are too many roadblocks with the salary cap to realistically see Hextall being able to move a body out in order to inject more youth to the Flyers.
My gut tells me Hextall will make at least one move at the trade deadline.
It makes for an opportune time to clear cap space and expedite the rebuild.
As Tom noted above, Streit, Del Zotto and Schultz are all unrestricted free agents after this season. If you don’t think any of those three can be moved, remember Hextall found a way to deal Kimmo Timonen, who was 39 years old and without a game played in 2014-15 because of blood clots, for a 2015 second-round draft pick and 2016 conditional pick.
And don’t forget role forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde — cheap and also set to be UFAs this offseason.
So the cap-stricken Flyers have trade chips and aren’t contending for a Stanley Cup this season. Which brings us to the question of will Hextall dip into the farm system before season’s end? I see it happening with some room made after the trade deadline.
That doesn’t mean the Flyers can’t compete for the playoffs, either.
To me, this question comes with an "if" attached to it for a couple of reasons. The first is because of how hell-bent Hextall is on keeping the Flyers' prospects in Lehigh Valley for seasoning until he believes they're truly ready for the NHL level. And the second depends on where the Flyers are in the standings. If they come out of this bye week hot and pick up points to rise back into legitimate playoff talk, Hextall will likely sit pat and let this group play it out. If things continue to unravel, then the Flyers move into seller mode before the March 1 trade deadline. If what we've been conditioned to over this recent miserable stretch is reality, that's the path we're heading down.
So if the Flyers do sell, it's inevitable that a prospect or two makes it up from the Phantoms toward the end of the season because there will finally be some space on the roster to fit in. If the Flyers are all but out of the playoff hunt, bringing a prospect up and letting him play in the NHL level for the last month and change of the season can do wonders for a prospect's confidence heading into next season. Life in the NHL is much different than the bus ride-filled life in the AHL. Once you get a taste, you don't want to go back if you don't have to. And that's a motivating factor heading into training camp.
The next question is who would be brought up? That's a question I don't think is fair to answer right now because only Hextall, his staff and his coaches know who they feel could be ready for a call-up. Of course, the Phantoms are loaded with talent on the back end and that's where the Flyers could use a jolt. To speculate on exactly who that could be right now just wouldn't be fair, in my opinion.
But, for right now before the schedule picks up again this weekend with dates against the Devils and Islanders, this prospect call-up scenario still fits under the "if" scenario.
But if the Flyers continue to falter out of the bye week, I feel seeing a prospect or two with the big club before season's end is inevitable.
Flyers (22-18-6) vs. Devils (19-19-9)
7 p.m. on TCN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30
The bye week has come and gone as the Flyers return from their NHL mandated five-day break by welcoming the New Jersey Devils to the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night.
Here are five things to know for the game.
1. We meet again
Remember the last game between these two?
It certainly didn’t lack for entertainment, as Fight Night broke out at the Prudential Center right before the commencement of the holiday break.
The Devils were looking for any reason to drop the gloves after general manager Ray Shero called out his bunch in hopes of halting a seven-game losing streak.
New Jersey answered and jumped on the first chance to throw its fists, hammering the Flyers, 4-0, a contest in which blood never stopped boiling. The matchup resembled more of a UFC lineup card than an actual hockey game.
“Should be a good rivalry here this year,” Nick Cousins said then. “Two teams that don’t like each other. I’m excited for the next game.”
The Flyers get it tonight.
2. New perspective?
The Flyers are hoping the bye week was a remedy for their free-fall.
They’ve lost 11 of 14 games since winning 10 straight and no longer hold a playoff spot after clinging to the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card bid for dear life during their skid. Salt was rubbed in the wound with a 5-0 loss to the Capitals last Sunday, as the Flyers limped into the bye week.
Still, the Flyers are in prime position for the playoff push, unlike last season when they had to scrape and claw just to squeak in on the second-to-last day of the regular season.
“We know we've got to be better,” Wayne Simmonds said following practice Friday. “We all have to be accountable to each other. We’re not starting from scratch, but we need a new perspective here. Come out of the gate and do it the right way, again.”
3. Time to capitalize
The Flyers should not only be refreshed mentally, but also physically.
They’ll need the energy this weekend as another back-to-back arrives. It’s one the Flyers really need to take advantage of against the two last-place teams in the Metropolitan Division.
What makes it of even greater importance is that a crucial three-game stretch follows against the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Hurricanes. New York sits ahead of the Flyers in fourth place of the Metro, while the Maple Leafs currently own the second wild card because of fewer games played than the Flyers, who lead the Hurricanes by only one point.
“Guys realize the situation we are in,” Brayden Schenn said Friday. “We know the circumstances. The break came at a good time, mentally … guys know what we’re coming into there with the back-to-backs.
“You were kind of scoreboard watching. We know where we’re at. We’re in a dogfight battle with teams for those wild-card spots. There’s a lot of hockey left. It’s no secret. Everyone pays attention where we’re at.”
4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: The gut feeling is Shayne Gostisbehere makes his return felt by snapping his 22-game goal drought. The 23-year-old defenseman has two goals in four career games against New Jersey and is playing through a trying sophomore season.
Devils: Forward Taylor Hall has a great last name and is on a five-game point streak. New Jersey’s leading scorer also has five goals and five assists in seven lifetime matchups with the Flyers.
5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth is 6-2-5 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 13 career games against the Devils.
• New Jersey goalie Cory Schneider is 5-3-1 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in nine career games against the Flyers.
• The Devils have a Metropolitan-worst minus-29 goal differential.
• The Flyers have been outscored, 19-9, over their last four games.