Flyers 2017 Expansion Draft Revisited: Laughton, Bellemare

May 3, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) and Philadelphia Flyers left wing Scott Laughton (21) are separated by linesman Pierre Racicot (65) during the second period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
May 3, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) and Philadelphia Flyers left wing Scott Laughton (21) are separated by linesman Pierre Racicot (65) during the second period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /
facebooktwitterreddit

The Philadelphia Flyers will have to choose their player protection list ahead of the Seattle Kraken 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21. The limited available spots might force general manager Chuck Fletcher to leave high-profile players like James van Riemsdyk, Jake Voracek, or Shayne Gostisbehere exposed.

The same dilemma arose when the Vegas Golden Knights entered the league in 2017. Former general manager Ron Hextall faced tough decisions in choosing which depth forwards in the bottom-six would be most valuable to the franchise moving forward.

In a surprising move, Hextall chose to protect 23-year-old center Scott Laughton. He dealt winger Nick Cousins to the Arizona Coyotes for apparent fear he would be selected and left alternate captain Pierre-Edouard Bellemare exposed. Vegas ultimately chose Bellemare.

The Perseverance of Scott Laughton

Laughton, at that point in time, was considered a first-round bust. After being selected 20th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, he struggled to find any consistent rhythm at the NHL level. He had played just two NHL games during the 2016-17 season, and most pundits considered him an irrelevant piece of the organization’s future.

Hextall’s decision meant that Laughton’s standing in the Flyers organization was safe for the time being, and he became a regular in the lineup during the 2017-18 season. His offensive numbers still didn’t necessarily justify a first-round draft selection, but his contributions to the team as a reliable forward in the bottom-six accomplished exactly what Hextall had hoped for.

Laughton’s offensive contributions finally ramped up in 2019-20. He scored 13 goals and added 14 assists in just 49 games played. His hard-nosed style of play provided the type of grit that the Flyers had been searching for in previous seasons. He was especially valuable to an improved penalty killing unit that exceeded expectations.

P.E. Bellemare- Fearless Gritter

Seemingly every year, Flyers fans watch a former member of their team achieve playoff success in another uniform. Bellemare continued the trend. He jumped into a role as a key contributor in the bottom-six for Vegas during their run to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season in 2017-18.

The 36-year-old French center spent two seasons in Vegas and moved onto Colorado, where he has played another two seasons for the Avalanche. He has played in 51 of his 56 career playoff games since leaving Philadelphia, and he has been a part of five playoff series victories over that span.

Bellemare is the type of fearless, gritty hockey player that belongs on a Stanley Cup contender every season. Cousins has also made a name for himself since leaving Philadelphia.

Did the Flyers make the wrong choice?

Hextall’s choice to leave Bellemare exposed allowed an invaluable NHL player to walk away from the Flyers organization with no return. On the surface, this was a mistake. However, the decision paved the way for the development of a player nine years younger with a higher offensive upside.

The Flyers inked Laughton to a 5 year/$15 million extension in March. The 27-year-old will factor heavily into the future of the franchise. While his physical health related to COVID-19 contributed to a late-season slump in 2020-21, he can be the type of ferocious agitator the team needs moving forward. His offensive production outweighs that of Bellemare, as he has been counted on to play top-six minutes in circumstances when the Flyers need him to.

If the Flyers can recover from the dismal 2020-21 season and become a perennial playoff team like they once were, Scott Laughton could be well on his way to becoming the same type of playoff role player as Bellemare. Hextall’s initially head-scratching choice paid off for the Flyers.