Throughout the offseason, we’ll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
The topic: What are your expectations for Scott Laughton?
Ron Hextall certainly raised a few eyebrows when Laughton was one of seven forwards the Flyers protected in the Vegas expansion draft despite playing just two NHL games last season. Struggling to find his place with the Flyers during Year 1 of the Dave Hakstol era, Laughton spent 2016-17 in Lehigh Valley refining his game, his mental approach and learning how to contribute without necessarily putting up numbers.
At the NHL draft in Chicago, Hextall said, “This kid took a step in terms of his dedication, his attachment to the game, his passion for the game, the way he plays the game. … Last year I think he figured it out.” Translation: He developed more into the type of defensive-minded player required on a Hextall-constructed team. A couple of weeks later, the Flyers and Laughton agreed on a two-year contract worth $1.925 million.
I think Laughton will have a strong training camp and will begin the season sliding into the fourth-line center role left by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (selected by Vegas). Laughton should also pick up some of Bellemare’s penalty-killing role, an area he worked on and improved during his time with the Phantoms. If Laughton can chip in with 15-20 points playing primarily on the Flyers' checking line, he’ll prove to be a nice upgrade over Bellemare.
We can connect the dots. The Flyers expect Laughton to make the team when training camp breaks in October. Hextall protected Laughton over Bellemare in the expansion draft.
Makes sense, right? Protect the 23-year-old over the 32-year-old. Easy decision. Hextall didn't draft Laughton, but by protecting him, it shows they still believe in Laughton. Earlier this summer, Hextall said Laughton grew up a lot in Lehigh Valley last season.
Laughton signed a two-year contract extension earlier this month. He is no longer waiver exempt. That's important to note. They no longer have the option to send him to the AHL without subjecting him to waivers first. I don't see any scenario he passes through.
So, Laughton will be with the Flyers on Oct. 4 in San Jose. Has to be. The Flyers respected Bellemare way too much to protect Laughton in the expansion draft and then risk losing the Oakville, Ontario, native on waivers. The question is will he be a regular?
The Flyers lost the dynamic duo of Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde this summer. All three spots on the fourth line are open for business. Laughton will be in consideration.
We can count seven players competing for three spots in the lineup: Laughton, Dale Weise, Jori Lehtera, Mike Vecchione, Michael Raffl, Valtteri Filppula and Taylor Leier. I expect Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom to have top-nine roles. Filppula probably also has a top-nine role as well, but he's also a candidate for the fourth line.
That means six players for three spots. Then there will be one or two extra forwards. The other guy isn't here. Laughton will be here. In what capacity, I just don't know.
Following 2015-16, Laughton's first full NHL season in which he played mainly on the third line, the 2012 first-round pick said he had goals of being a top-six forward.
I think that's where he could actually show his true colors, but wouldn't everyone love top-six minutes?
Of course, but more often than not, you have to earn them and Laughton has not shown enough to climb the ladder with the Flyers. So what does he have to do? Be ready to capitalize on a fourth-line job, a role with not as much glamor and more dirty work in shorter minutes. He first needs to prove he can be such a player, especially now given the Flyers have an overcrowded group of forwards.
If Laughton can find his niche there, then maybe he sees more opportunity. The Flyers are smart, though, to not totally give up on Laughton. Think about it? He's only 23 years old and has had some bad luck with injuries to go along with just 109 games on his NHL résumé. He needs more time — and with it, he could turn out to be a nice scoring threat in a depth position, something the Flyers have needed.
Considering he was protected in the expansion draft and is now on a new two-year deal, it's likely Laughton makes the roster out of training camp. As for playing time, he'll have to earn it and then keep it if he does.
This upcoming Flyers training camp, in so many ways, is about opportunity. It will be abound for Patrick, Lindblom and the rest of the team's prospects … including Laughton.
It feels weird to still call Laughton a prospect, but he still just turned 23 in May and he spent basically all of last season reinventing himself in the AHL so he can become a better NHL player than he was before, no matter what the role may be.
That year of hard work last season obviously left an impression on Hextall and the Flyers' brass, who ultimately decided to protect Laughton from Vegas in the expansion draft despite the fact he played just two NHL games last season and has just 27 points in his NHL career. He impressed them so much so that he even got that two-year extension a few weeks ago.
So what does the immediate future hold for Laughton? Well, there is now a renewed sense of trust there that didn't exist before between player and organization. If there wasn't, the Flyers wouldn't have protected him and handed him that extension.
That makes me believe the organization prefers a defensively rounded Laughton in a bottom-six NHL role and that's where I believe he'll start the season. From there, it's up to him where things go and how he uses that year in the AHL to prove he really is a better NHL player. I see him starting on the fourth line and being a guy who could be a candidate to move up the lineup if the situation calls for it. The Flyers will need a solid defensive game from Laughton and if he can chip in points-wise, too, that's even better, obviously.
But Laughton now has something many thought he might not get again in Philadelphia — an opportunity. It's up to him on how he takes advantage of it.