Philadelphia Flyers: Expect Laughton Decision To Be Driven By Present Need, Not Future Planning

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)

An 18-year old first round forward enters Philadelphia Flyers training camp an apparent long shot to make the roster. Forward thinking fans rail against the possibility of said young forward making the team, arguing that the minimal benefit of a talented young player filling a role on the third and fourth lines is outweighed by the negative of wasting a year of his entry level contract.

The Flyers disagreed, and Sean Couturier found himself in the opening day lineup.

2013 finds history repeating itself in the form of Scott Laughton.

Laughton, taken 20th overall by the Flyers in the 2012 NHL Draft, spent the lockout playing for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League. In 32 OHL games, Laughton has scored 13 goals and 20 assists for 33 points, an improvement upon his 0.82 PPG pace in 2011-12. A ten-game suspension for a blindside hit on Daniel Walsh has been the only blemish on an otherwise impressive season in juniors.

Flyers insider Anthony SanFilippo reported on January 8th that Laughton would likely be invited to camp, and boldly predicted that the 18-year old would earn a spot on the Flyers’ opening day roster. Two days later, SanFilippo’s first prediction was proven right, as Laughton was officially invited to Flyers’ camp.

With Daniel Briere expected to miss the start of the regular season due to his wrist injury, a spot in the Flyers’ forward corps would temporarily open up for Laughton. But the young forward would be permitted to play only five NHL games before burning a year off his three-year entry level contract.

The safe decision would be to allow Laughton to experience the abbreviated camp, play five NHL games at most, before sending him back to Oshawa for further seasoning. After all, wasting one of Laughton’s three inexpensive pre-free agency seasons on a 48-game sprint where he would largely function as the team’s 4th line center would seem a shortsighted decision by the Philadelphia front office.

However, the same could have been said of the decision to keep Couturier in 2011. Or the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov to a massive nine year, $51 million contract in an attempt to add a top-tier goaltender. Or the willingness to sacrifice multiple early round draft picks and take on a massive contract to acquire Shea Weber.

Aggressiveness rules the thinking in the Flyers’ front office. If Peter Laviolette and Paul Holmgren both deem Scott Laughton ready to help the Philadelphia Flyers win a Stanley Cup this season, he will be on the opening day roster, regardless of contract situation.

And so far, both decision makers seem suitably impressed.

“He’s a smart kid, a smart two-way player,” coach Peter Laviolette said following Sunday’s practice. “He came out here and he certainly didn’t look out of place.”

General Manager Paul Holmgren concurred with Laviolette’s assessment.

“He’s an impressive young player that plays the game properly in his own end and skates real well,” Holmgren said. “[Laughton] brings an element of toughness to his game. He’s really good on faceoffs.”

Holmgren and Laviolette are not the only Laughton supporters in the organization. Flyers Director of Player Development Ian Lapierriere first became a fan during the team’s rookie camp in July.

“He knows what the Flyers are all about,” Laperriere raved at the conclusion of the camp. “I really like Laughton’s game and I think he improved all week.”

While nowhere near as offensively gifted as Couturier, Laughton’s commitment to two-way play and his strong forechecking ability made him one of the obvious standouts at July’s rookie camp.

It was that performance that earned him this week’s opportunity – to follow in Sean Couturier’s footsteps and make the Flyers at age 18.

Given the chance to rule out the possibility of Laughton making the Flyers, Holmgren refused. Tellingly, he made reference to Laughton’s predecessor.

“What did I say about Couturier last year?  Highly unlikely?  I don’t know.”

Laughton still needs a strong camp to earn a spot in the Flyers lineup. But contract concerns will not prevent Laughton from joining Couturier as the second under-21 member of the Philadelphia Flyers.

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