(Editor’s Note: Scott Laughton has been sent back to the Oshawa Generals today. 10/3/13)
When the Flyers opened their 2013-2014 season last night, the fanfare was incredible. As I watched it on TV, I could feel the intensity of the building as each player was announced. There was one part of the pregame introductions, however, that made me cringe. Hearing the name Jay Rosehill announced as an active player, and subsequently hearing Scott Laughton announced as a healthy scratch, was difficult to process.
Scott Laughton was drafted by the Flyers in the first round (20th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft. He is a two-way center who is listed at 6’1”, 177lb (although he has gained considerable muscle since being drafted). In the abbreviated training camp that took place prior to last years’ lockout shortened season, he was able to earn a spot on the Flyers opening night roster. It is important to note that he had been competitively playing for his OHL team, the Oshawa Generals, during the lockout while some players did little playing during that time. Laughton played in five NHL games before returning to the Generals and posting a career high 56 points in 49 games.
This year Laughton once again made the Flyers roster out of training camp, but he was scratched in the season opener. His stay with the big club may only last nine games (at which point the Flyers can send him back to Oshawa without losing a year on his entry level contract) and many believe that Rosehill got the nod last night because of his fighting ability, which was necessary against the gritty Maple Leafs. Even though Laughton was a high draft choice, there are a few reasons why Laughton may have trouble settling into a full-time job with the Flyers in the future.
The Flyers are as deep at center as any team in the NHL. Claude Giroux is unquestionably the top line center and will most likely be filling that role for many years to come. With the signing of Vincent Lecavalier to a five year contract, which included a full no-movement clause, the second line center job is also locked up for the foreseeable future. Sean Couturier, the current third line center, is a young, skilled two-way player. Couturier is bigger than Laughton and has more offensive upside than Laughton. If anyone will be displacing Lecavalier on the second line in the near future, it will be Couturier. Couturier is also under contract through the 2015-2016 season.
This leaves the fourth line center spot open in the years to come. Currently, the best players to fit into that role on the Flyers roster are Adam Hall and Max Talbot. This season Talbot seems to have won himself a job as a third-line winger, while Hall looks to be playing center on the fourth line. Although I believe both Talbot and Hall are better suited to a fourth line role than Laughton is, Laughton could benefit from being a fourth line center in the NHL during his rookie year. He cannot, however, stay on the fourth line forever. Hall will be a free agent after this season, but prospect Nick Cousins is also going to be competing for a roster spot. Although Cousins may not be an ideal fourth-line center either, he is much more suited to that role than Laughton is.
Laughton projects to be either a second or third line center. Which role he fits into will depend upon his offensive development. In the 2012-2013 OHL coach’s poll, Laughton was voted as the second best defensive forward in the OHL’s Eastern Conference. Laughton plays a solid defensive game that is ideal for third line players and penalty killers. As has already been discussed, Laughton plays a very similar game to that of Couturier, but Couturier is bigger, more offensively gifted, and just better all around.
As much as Laughton looks like he will make a quality player someday, it is hard to see where he fits into the Flyers’ long-term plan. However, there are a few scenarios that could keep Laughton with the Flyers for many years to come.
Someone could be traded. One of the aforementioned young centers (Couturier or Cousins) could be traded away, leaving room for Laughton. There have also been suggestions of moving Lecavalier to right wing if/when Couturier breaks out offensively. This would leave the third line center job open for Laughton (and subsequently let Cousins take the fourth-line center role for the future). Finally, injuries happen. Over the next few years there is no telling what could happen to any one of the centers in the Flyers line-up. If one of them sustains a serious, career threatening injury, as awful as that would be, it may solidify a long-term place for Scott Laughton.
From the little I have seen him play (his five NHL games last season and a few snippets in this years’ preseason) I have grown to like the way that Scott Laughton plays the game. He will make a solid NHL player one day. The only question is, with the Flyers depth at center, will he be playing in Philadelphia?