One of the biggest names around Flyers training camp is a name that virtually none of us knew before last June: Scott Laughton.
Laughton, drafted by the Flyers with the 20th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, was invited to the team’s abbreviated training camp this week and has turned enough heads to earn a spot on the team’s 23-man roster, according to this report from CSN Philly’s Tim Panaccio.
Laughton seemed like a long-shot to go straight from the draft to a starting role on the team, but a wrist injury suffered while playing in Germany will keep top-six forward Daniel Briere out for at least a few games, opening up a spot for a member of the Phantoms or a juniors prospect, like Laughton, to prove his worth (via TSN).
It seems likely that Laughton’s role is not simply to round out a 23-man roster. With Jody Shelley, Tom Sestito and Zac Rinaldo making up three of the 14 forwards to make the team (excluding Briere, who will begin the year on the injured list), it seems very unlikely that the Flyers would want to devote two or more of the starting positions to players who largely serve as agitators and enforcers.
If Laughton were to be benched until Briere’s return, the Flyers would be skating with an extra enforcer, a rarity in today’s NHL. And given Shelley’s age (37 next month) and Sestito’s reputation (he spent most of last year in the AHL following a suspension, returning to the NHL just long enough to scramble Nathan Horton’s eggs), the Flyers aren’t exactly looking to build their roster around the brawn that those players provide.
While the Flyers will be missing a skill player in Briere, the reality is that Laughton’s presence goes far beyond Briere’s absence, and the rookie’s potential contributions would be made on the third and fourth lines as a two-way forward.
The Flyers have precedent for bestowing a teenager with that sort of responsibility. Sean Couturier surprised everyone last year by making the roster as an 18-year-old and subsequently thriving in the role of shut-down centerman.
Couturier was so impressive that he was tasked with—and for all intents and purposes, succeeded at—shutting down Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin in the playoffs.
This year will be a chance for Couturier to develop and showcase his offensive talents, as long as there is room for him on the top two lines. Current projections on the Flyers’ own blog On The Fly have Couturier centering the second line with Max Talbot and Jakub Voracek; upon Briere’s return, Talbot would likely be placed back in a third- or fourth-line role.
Including Talbot, the third- and fourth-line candidates currently include Talbot, Ruslan Fedotenko, Matt Read, Wayne Simmonds, Rinaldo, Eric Wellwood, Sestito, Shelley and Laughton.
Laughton will be able to play five games before the team must determine whether to send him back to the Oshawa Generals. If he is sent back, he will still be in the first year of his entry-level contract when the 2013-14 season begins. However, the team would not be able to recall him later this year if the need arose for an extra forward.
If Laughton remains through a sixth game, the first year of his contract is in effect. Given the shortened season, this is an important decision for the Flyers brass.
Forty-eight games is not a whole lot of time for an 18-year-old to get experience.
Still, Laughton will not be in the most highly skilled of roles. His style of play is not going to conjure up images of Daniel Briere.
His scouting report, from Hockey’s Future, makes him sound more like a young Max Talbot:
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Laughton is two-way center whose primary skills are on the defensive side of the ledger. He is a hard-worker with a consistent approach to the game and plenty of smarts. Laughton is not a highly skilled player and it remains to be seen how he'll develop in this area, but he should be an effective third-line player with some potential for second-line duty.
Grit, smarts and a little extra leadership to boot. A player like Laughton doesn’t need to shine or turn heads at the NHL level to succeed, even as an 18-year-old. He simply needs to be able to keep up.
The five-game evaluation period, much like Couturier’s eight games in 2011, will be very telling for the execs.
In an ideal world, Laughton will fit right in, allowing the team to build a more effective third line either by placing Laughton on it or by placing him on the fourth and bumping a player like Talbot to the third.
This would keep Shelley and Sestito out of the lineup for all but the most vitriolic of games, as they generally contribute little on the offensive or defensive sides of the puck.
But if Laughton does not have the skills to be an everyday player, there is no sense keeping him in the NHL. Eighteen-year-olds do not get better by riding the pine, and if Zac Rinaldo, Eric Wellwood and Ruslan Fedotenko all prove themselves to be more effective than Laughton is right now, he will find himself back in Oshawa.
Scott Laughton does appear to be a player who can contribute at the NHL level based upon his scouting reports and his performance in a short but telling training camp. For Laughton, Saturday’s opener against Pittsburgh will be the first of up to five tryouts he has to prove that he is NHL-worthy.
Should he impress, he’ll be wearing orange and black long after Briere returns to the lineup.