Laughton still battling for crowded center spot


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.”

Steve Mason, Flyers hope to channel emotion in opener

Steve Mason, Flyers hope to channel emotion in opener

Fiftieth anniversary home opener. Electricity in the stands. And a stirring tribute to the late Ed Snider, the founding father of the franchise.

All of that is on tap Thursday night for the Flyers as they welcome the Anaheim Ducks to the Wells Fargo Center.

Steve Mason, who didn’t get the start in Los Angeles for the season opener, gets the nod in the even larger home curtain lift.

“It’s a special night for everybody who is involved with it,” the Flyers’ goalie said. “This organization is rich in history, largely because of Mr. Snider. 

“It will be nice to see him get the respect he most definitely deserves beforehand. It will be an honor to be part of it.”

Fans attending the game will have lighted bracelets hanging off their seats for the on-ice tribute to Snider. His family will be there, as well.

When the Flyers offered a bracelet tribute to Snider last April in their playoff home opener (Game 3) against Washington, fans threw the bracelets on the ice during a 6-1 blowout loss.

“It’s up to us to give them reasons to keep them on their wrists,” Mason said. “They’re cool introduction shows and you hope everyone is respectful.”

Some of the Flyers said they need to channel the emotion of the evening toward getting off to a better start in the game. The Flyers had poor starts in their recent three-game road trip out west.

“Most guys are pretty excited, it’s going to be a full house and there’s nothing like opening at home,” said Nick Cousins, who is back in the lineup (Roman Lyubimov is out). “I’m looking forward to it. There will be a lot of emotion in the building. 

“Mr. Snider was the heart and soul of the Flyers. Very passionate about the hockey team. Like I said, there’s going to be a lot of emotion in the building. Hopefully, we can get this win for him. The boys are looking forward to it.”

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said he addressed his club briefly today about channeling their energy off the Snider ceremony into something positive without being consumed by it.

“We discussed it a little bit in a quick team meeting,” Hakstol said. “And really, there’s nothing more to be said. Take that emotion, take that energy and direct in the right way into our game. 

“Sometimes, that’s easier said than done, but our group is veteran enough in here that we will be able to do that.”

On Cousins
Hakstol said he didn’t want to leave Cousins sit “too long.” 

Cousins said the explanation for his benching in Chicago wasn’t punitive and that Hakstol explained to him he wanted to get Lyubimov his first taste of NHL play.

“I really like what Lubey did in his role the other night,” Hakstol said. “I thought he took a step forward. But tonight we got Cuz back in there and the things he brings to the table are important to us.”

Provorov bounce-back
Rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov was minus-5 in the 7-4 loss at Chicago. He was responsible, in part, for three goals.

“It happens to the best of us,” Provorov said, sounding like a veteran. “The best players in the world make mistakes. If nobody made mistakes, the game would end 0-0. 

“The thing that separates the better players from average players is they limit those kind of nights. It happens to all of us. You learn from it and move on.” 

Flyers-Ducks 5 things: An extra-meaningful home opener

Flyers-Ducks 5 things: An extra-meaningful home opener

Flyers vs. Ducks
7 p.m. on CSN, Pregame Live at 6

The Wells Fargo Center will be filled with emotion Thursday night.

It marks the beginning of the Flyers’ home schedule for the organization’s first season without iconic founder Ed Snider, who died in April. The team is planning a special pregame tribute to commemorate the man who birthed the franchise in 1966.

Building blocks Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov will make their regular-season home debuts as 19-year-olds, another significant shift for the franchise.

And hockey returns to South Philadelphia.

The Flyers (1-1-1) welcome the Anaheim Ducks (0-3-1) for their 2016-17 home opener.

Here are five things to know for the game:

1. Schenn returns
With Brayden Schenn’s return from a three-game suspension, the Flyers now see a full arsenal at the head of their lineup, making for a top six head coach Dave Hakstol and the front office likely envisioned when the decision came to keep Konecny.

Schenn will rejoin Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds on the Flyers’ first line, followed by the fast-starting second unit of Konecny, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek, which has produced 10 points over the opening three games.

"Obviously Brayden coming back is going to be big for us," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday. "He's a physical presence, he scores goals, he's good on the power play. So I think Brayden [will make] a big impact, too, so it's nice to get your lines in how Hak foresees them.”

The 25-year-old forward, with a new four-year deal signed this offseason after a career year, is a huge component to the Flyers’ man advantage, on which he scored the team’s second-most goals (11) and tied for the second-most points (22).

Typically a player that heats up in January and February, Schenn is motivated beginning the season in position to replicate his 26-goal, 33-assist campaign in 2015-16.

"I think I continue to get more confident and get better every year,” Schenn said. “I think heading into this year, I start off with a great opportunity to play with great players throughout the start here and try to run with it. I feel confident, I feel good heading into Game 1 for me.

"I'm going to do everything in my power to try and beat my points from last year."

2. The rookie’s response
That would be Provorov, who endured his first game to forget as an NHLer in the Flyers’ 7-4 loss to the Blackhawks on Tuesday.

The blueliner committed a few mistakes, highlighted by a costly blunder, en route to a game-worst minus-5 rating.

Provorov has spoiled fans thus far with his precociousness. For once, he actually looked 19.

It’ll be interesting to see how he answers in a hyped-up environment such as the home opener. The Flyers are not worried, nor should they be.

"Even though there were a couple of mistakes and a couple of things that didn't go right, he just kept playing,” Hakstol said. “He kept trying to make a difference in the game. I think that shows his overall mentality and his care of the team. Those are things that kind of tell you where his maturity level is at."

3. Not-so mighty Ducks
Anaheim is off to a lousy start.

Winless through four contests, the Ducks are 29th among the NHL in both goals per game (1.75) and goal differential (minus-5).

Interestingly, Anaheim was handed a five-game road trip to start the season. The Ducks also started slow in 2015-16, going 1-7-2 over their first 10 games. However, they finished with an overall goal differential of plus-26 and a playoff berth.

They also went 21-15-5 on the road and boasted the league’s No. 1 power play and penalty kill.

The absences of forward Rickard Rakell (abdomen) and defenseman Hampus Lindholm (contract holdout) have not helped.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: We’ll say Schenn — who’s “chomping at the bit,” according to Hakstol — makes a dent in his first game. Over his past four season debuts, Schenn has two goals and one assist.

Ducks: Skilled center Ryan Getzlaf is a tough matchup with his 6-foot-4 frame. He also owns five goals and 10 assists in 12 career games against the Flyers.

5. This and that
• Steve Mason will start in net for the Flyers after relief duty in Tuesday’s loss. He’s 5-9-2 with a 3.36 goals-against average and .889 save percentage in 17 games lifetime against the Ducks.

• Anaheim goalie John Gibson is 0-2-1 with a 3.07 goals-against average to start the season. He’s faced the Flyers only once in his career, beating them, 4-2, on Dec. 27 of last season with 24 saves.

• Nick Cousins is back in the lineup for Roman Lyubimov. The forwards were swapped on Tuesday as Cousins was scratched and Lyubimov made his NHL debut.

Michael Raffl is out 10 to 14 days with an upper-body injury. Schenn essentially fills his spot in the lineup.

• The Flyers have lost three of their last four home openers.

• Konecny leads all NHL rookies in assists with four.