Scott Laughton has taken the OHL by storm since his return to the Oshawa Generals on October 3rd. Laughton was a healthy scratch for the Flyers in their season opener and was sent back to juniors before their second game. Laughton has 14 goals and 17 assists in 17 games for the Generals. One of his goals has gotten quite a bit of publicity because of the filthy moves that Laughton displayed. Take a look:
Laughton missed the first four games of the Generals season due to the Flyers training camp and season opener. He is on place to play 64 games and record 116 points. These numbers jump off of the page and get many Flyers fans excited for the future. There is one thing we need to remember when looking at Laughton’s domination of the OHL, he is 19 years old and playing in his fourth OHL season. He is playing against many 16-18 year olds, some of whom have no NHL future.
As an example, let’s look back at the goal that is displayed above. The move was tantalizing, there is no doubt about that. But the defenseman he made look silly is 18 year old Connor Boland. Boland went undrafted in June and was invited to a few prospect tournaments. Currently, he is not on any NHL teams’ radar. The goalie who got taken to school is Andrew D’Agostini. He also went undrafted in his draft year (2011) and is not on the prospect radar. He may be in his 5th year in the OHL, but has a 3.88 GAA and a .888 SV% this season. He has a career 3.87 GAA and career SV% of .892. The Peterborough Petes are not exactly tearing it up as a team, either. They have an 8-9-3 record and sit in the middle of their division.
I am not saying that Laughton is a bad player or that the moves he has displayed are not amazing. All I am saying is that it is one thing to do that against a couple of average OHL players and it is another thing to do it against the likes of Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, and Zdeno Chara.
Laughton’s ability to put up points this season is fantastic. But this should serve as another point of caution. His point projections are similar to the point total of top line center Claude Giroux in his fourth junior season (106 points in 55 games). They also closely resemble those of 3rd/4th line center Max Talbot in his fourth junior season (104 points in 69 games). Ian Laperriere, Daniel Cleary, and Kris Newbury are all 3rd/4th lines players and they all scored over 100 points in juniors at one time or another. So what do these stats mean for Laughton? Is he a future stud, top line player or is he destined for 4th line duties?
Obviously making an apples-to-apples comparison of hockey players is not the best, or most accurate, way to evaluate talent. However, Laughton was drafted in the first round of the NHL draft, so the kid clearly has some talent. Laughton also played in five NHL games at the beginning of the lockout shortened 2013 season. In those games he played well and was not a liability on the ice. Something else to consider is the fact that Talbot’s fourth junior season was his first in which he averaged over a point-per-game. Laughton averaged 1.14 points-per-game in the OHL last season, 56 points in 49 games, and is only improving on that total this season.
So what kind of potential does Scott Laughton possess? I addressed this to a certain extent in my October 3rd post about Laughton, and my views have only slightly changed. The fact that he has been on the opening night roster for two straight (at 18 and 19 year old) seasons shows that he has exceptional skills. When Laughton was returned to Oshawa, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said that it was vital for the team to “justify the amount of minutes you think he is gonna get and weigh it against the long-term projections of where you see him down the road. It just didn’t add up for us.” Translation: Scott Laughton would be relegated to the fourth line this season on the Flyers, only logging 6-8 minutes a night, and that is nowhere near his long-term role. The Flyers will expect more from him when he eventually makes the team full-time.
Scott Laughton plays a strong defensive game and has a moderate amount of offensive skill. He did not register a point in the five NHL games he played last season. He will never have the offensive skill of Claude Giroux, nor is he expected to. He may never become a point-per-game player in the NHL, but he will be a defensively sound second line center or an offensively dangerous third line center sometime down the road. His stats in juniors should be taken with a grain of salt and while they are impressive, they do not suggest that he should be on the Flyers roster this season. The chance to play 20+ minutes a night and expand his offensive game will do wonders for his development. However, his amazing production and flashy moves this season are no reason to over-hype the solid 19 year old prospect.