Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall raised eye brows when he chose to protect Scott Laughton in the expansion draft over the summer.
The 2012 first-round draft pick scored seven goals and had 14 assists in 71 games with the Flyers in 2015-16, but Laughton languished the entire season last year with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Although it looked, from the outside at least, that his value to the organization had plummeted, nothing could have been further from the truth.
By the end of last year, Hextall knew Laughton had improved his defensive game and possessed the potential to play a significant role with the Flyers.
It’s a small sample size, but Laughton has proved his GM’s decision to not expose him to the Las Vegas Golden Knights was a shrewd one. Laughton earned a roster spot out of training camp as the center on the fourth line and through the first five games of the regular season has shown he belongs in the NHL.
“Every good young player is going to have a different path,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “They have to get here when they are ready. Scott is playing well for us right now. He hit bumps in the road last year, handled them extremely well and he’s the one who deserves the credit for putting himself back in this position.”
Instead of hanging his head after the demotion, Laughton used the detour to the minors as an opportunity to improve his defensive game, which he admitted he “lost a bit” two years ago.
“It was tough at the start after spending a full year in the NHL,” Laughton said. “I tried to build off my game and get better every day. I think it’s been good so far.”
It’s been better than that.
In Saturday’s rousing 8-2 win against the Capitals in the home opener, he scored his first two goals of the year – and the first one was a highlight reel play. With the game knotted at 1-1 and the Flyers on the penalty kill, Laughton beat Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer in a foot race for a loose puck and made an acrobatic play to sweep around the netminder and tuck the puck in the net.
He also has one assist, is tied for third on the team in shots and averages about 13 minutes a game.
“He looks like he’s a lot more confident,” said Wayne Simmonds. “I think he knows his role and what’s expected of him. He’s gotten a ton of offensive time and has been put in a position to succeed.”
While Laughton has resuscitated his career, he cautioned the season is still in its infancy.
“It’s only been five games this year," Laughton said. "I have to maintain it and remain consistent.”