The Philadelphia Flyers have come to view Scott Laughton as a tenacious player who brings value in countless tangible and intangible ways. His versatility offers head coach Alain Vigneault the option to play him at center or on the wing alongside virtually any forward on the roster. He has also played on both special teams units at times during the past two seasons.
Although big names like Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux deservedly garner the most attention in Philadelphia, Laughton has quietly become a reliable secondary scoring option. He followed up a career year offensively in 2019-20 by leading the team in goals during the 2020 Playoffs, and he has 17 points in 29 games this season.
Vigneault lauded the 26-year-old’s effort, calling him “one of our character players” after Laughton’s overtime goal against the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season. (from ‘Scott Laughton makes Alain Vigneault’s trust in him pay off,’ Buck County Courier Times, 09/02/2020) His reputation, however, was not earned easily. The former first-round pick has been called a highly-touted prospect, a failed draft selection, an exclusively bottom-six player, and an invaluable gritter all in his time with the organization.
Former Top Prospect Turned “Bust”
The Flyers selected Laughton 20th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He played five games to begin the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, but the organization decided to send him back to the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League for further development and to save a year on his entry-level contract.
While the Flyers faltered and missed the playoffs that season, Laughton shined in Oshawa with 56 points in 49 games in 2012-13. However, his chances of playing in Philadelphia looked bleak as underperforming veterans with long-term contracts kept valuable roster spots from young players.
Management added to an already crowded lineup at center when they signed a 33-year-old Vincent Lecavalier to an expensive five-year contract. The Flyers had Giroux, Couturier, Lecavalier, Maxime Talbot and Brayden Schenn all vying for the remaining roster spots down the middle.
The Flyers fell into a period of dysfunction and questionable roster decisions in the following season. Laughton was kept in junior for the 2013-14 season, but excitement grew when he scored 87 points in 54 games for Oshawa. He still figured heavily in the organization’s long-term plans and finally earned a roster spot heading into the 2014-15 season.
He scored six points in 31 NHL games in his rookie season and was quickly labelled a ‘bust’. Although he became an NHL regular in 2015-16, his production was underwhelming. During the opening round of the 2016 Playoffs, he was given the opportunity to fill in as the two-way center the team desperately needed after an injury to Couturier. However, he went three games without recording a point. His stock reached an all-time low when he spent most of the 2016-17 season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL and played only two NHL games.
Being a first-round draft pick inevitably means expectations will be high. In the last decade, the average age of NHL players has decreased significantly which has increased the anticipation for promising prospects to develop quickly. The pressure on Laughton was exacerbated by Philadelphia’s demanding fans who were in the midst of watching one of the least successful eras in franchise history.
Expansion Draft Turns the Tides
Laughton’s fortunes changed in the summer of 2017 when former Flyers general manager Ron Hextall handled the expansion draft in an unexpected way. First, he dealt winger Nick Cousins for draft compensation, fearing that the Vegas Golden Knights would select him. He then used a protection spot on Laughton, who was 23 at the time, a move that left the door open for the Golden Knights to select center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare from the Flyers instead. In what seemed like a head-scratching move, Hextall had devalued Cousins and Bellemare, two capable bottom-six forwards, in favor of a first-round “bust” who had played two NHL games the season before.
After Laughton was retained, he became a regular in the Flyers lineup. His offensive numbers in the ensuing two seasons were not still becoming of a first-round selection touted for his offensive firepower. However, he became a valuable, steady bottom-six forward just as Hextall had hoped. His positive contributions, if only a small step in the right direction, salvaged Laughton’s career in Philadelphia for the time being.
His offensive numbers improved in the 2019-20 season, with 13 goals and 14 assists despite being limited to 49 games due to injury. His role on the team increased exponentially due to an invaluable, hard-nosed style of play that frustrated opponents and endeared him to the fanbase. He was especially vital to a penalty-killing unit that showed major improvement from the previous season.
Laughton had a breakout game in December 2019 against the Ottawa Senators in which his strengths as a player paid dividends for the Flyers. Laughton, who was mic’d up for the game, found himself in the thick of second-period scrum after delivering a crushing hit on former Senators winger Jean-Gabriel Pageau. He revealed later that he had to stop himself from dropping the gloves because he had recently returned from a hand injury.
Laughton played with intensity throughout the afternoon. After Ottawa tied the score at 3-3 with five minutes left in the third, Laughton lit the lamp of the ensuing faceoff just 11 seconds later for what proved to be the game-winner. He also riled Senators winger Brady Tkachuk, who foolishly targeted Laughton in a retaliatory outburst and picked up a double-minor for cross-checking in the final minute of play. The penalty stunted any chances of a Senators’ comeback, and Laughton was named the game’s first star in an exhilarating 4-3 victory.
Laughton has persevered through criticism and setbacks early in his career to become the type of fierce, physical hockey player that has been historically celebrated within the Philadelphia Flyers organization and fan base. In 2019-20, he won the Yanick Dupre Class Guy Award, a sign of respect from the Flyers organization. While his unusual developmental as an NHL prospect differs from top picks who have bee able to reach stardom quickly, his path to success is an undertold story of determination.
He is an indispensable player who holds things together on a team of veteran stars and developing young players. As an impending unrestricted free agent, he is due for a pay raise from his current $2.5 million salary. Retaining Laughton should be a top priority for the Flyers this offseason.