Center Scott Laughton is the highest-ranking prospect in the Philadelphia Flyers organization. But will Laughton be in Philadelphia when the Flyers start the 2014-15 season, or will general manager Ron Hextall send his top prospect to the AHL for more seasoning?
There is little doubt about Laughton's offensive skills. The 20-year-old Oakville, Ontario, native scored 40 goals and 87 points in just 54 games with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL last season. He also showed leadership abilities when he was named captain of the Canadian team at the World Juniors last December.
While Laughton's offensive skills are clearly impressive, offensive skills alone rarely earn a young player a permanent spot on an NHL roster. Even the most talented goal scorer has to play at least adequately in his own zone and needs to develop the strength to win one-on-one battles for loose pucks.
Laughton feels he is making progress in this area. "My body's gotten bigger," Laughton told CSNPhilly.com's Sarah Baicker at the team's recent prospect camp. "I think I'm way more powerful on my feet. I felt way better this year around the puck in the corners, and things like that -- getting low and being powerful."
One obstacle facing Laughton is that the Flyers have a glut of centers on their roster, and that is his natural position. Coach Craig Berube already has Claude Giroux, Vincent Lecavalier, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, R.J. Umberger and Zac Rinaldo, and all of them have extensive NHL experience.
Laughton did indicate he would be willing to play on either wing if it meant he would stick with the big club this fall. "Whatever it takes to get to the next level," Laughton told Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post. "I've never played it before, but that's what I'm looking for is to play at the next level. I've said it before. Anything that's possible for me to be in a roster position, I'm willing to do."
Another question that has to be asked is what serves Laughton's best interests in the long term. If he makes the Flyers this season but plays sparingly on the fourth line, would that be better for his development than spending a season on the top line logging major minutes in the AHL?
Berube indicated to Baicker that Laughton's development and the needs of the team would be the major factors entering his decision before the start of the season:
That's a tough call. The thing with a player like that is you don't want to hurt his offense, and he's an offensive player. He's a good two-way player, but there's been guys -– Joe Thornton started on the fourth line in Boston -- that developed into a highly skilled offensive player. I think it just depends on the situation. I keep saying it, but it's what's best for the team at the time. If it's best that he makes the team, and he's deserving of making the team, we'll make that decision.
Laughton is confident he can play in the NHL right now and wants that chance. He did play in five games for the Flyers in 2012-13 and was a healthy scratch in the season opener last season before being returned to juniors. He has had a taste of life in Philadelphia and wants to make his next stay a lengthy one.
"I still think about it," Laughton told Max Cohen of The Philadelphia Inquirer. "It was definitely a dream come true, and that's where I want to be next year. That's the ultimate goal and there's no really lying about it, that's where I want to be. I just loved it up there."
There is little doubt that the Flyers remain convinced that Laughton has a bright NHL future. He'll need a strong training camp and a few breaks if that future is going to begin this season.