Laughton finally looking comfortable with Flyers

Flyers forward Scott Laughton takes part in a recent practice at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees. Laughton, a former first-round draft pick, has become a valuable player after reshaping his game. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Years ago, Scott Laughton would have dealt with straggly hair or the overgrown sideburns. A hot streak would have meant absolutely no change to the daily routine.

But a much more mature and a much more secure Scott Laughton, now 25 years old, approaches things a bit differently these days when he’s on a scoring streak.

“I just got a haircut last night,” Laughton said with a laugh. “I was way more superstitious in junior (hockey) but it’s been a while so whatever happens, happens. That’s the way I go about it now.”

That conversation was a few weeks ago when Laughton’s goal streak reached a season-high three games following a victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 3.

The scoring touch is coming a bit more easily and a bit more naturally for Laughton, a former first-round pick who has endured, and overcome his early career struggles.

“You’re a pretty big fish in a small pond in juniors,” Laughton said. “You come from scoring all those points and being on the power play and penalty kill, playing 25 minutes a night. Then you come here and you’re playing against the best players in the world. It’s a little bit different. You need to find things that work for you and little details that work in your game that can help you stick around. “

To Laughton’s credit, he’s done just that.

It wasn’t the easiest transition to the NHL for Laughton, who scored 143 points in 103 games in his final two seasons of junior hockey with the Oshawa Generals. He spent the next season and a half with the Flyers, playing in 102 games and totaling just nine goals and 18 assists during that span. The next season (2016-17), he played just two games with the Flyers and the rest with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Laughton had reached a crossroads as a young player, trying to make it in the big league. He played center, he played wing, he changed to a more defensive mindset. He did whatever it takes.

Flyers forward Scott Laughton takes part in a recent practice at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees. Laughton, a former first-round draft pick, has become a valuable player after reshaping his game. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“It’s just finding a way to stick around,” Laughton recalled. “It’s hard to make the NHL but it’s harder to stay. That’s why you have to bring something every night. Something that can help the team and whatever position I’m playing, I just try to help.”

Then-general manager Ron Hextall took notice and took a leap of faith, deciding to protect Laughton in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, exposing veteran Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who was eventually taken by the Vegas Golden Knights.

The season with the Phantoms had done Laughton a lot of good, as he produced 39 points in 60 games under coach Scott Gordon.

“I definitely think opportunity had come as soon as (Scott Gordon) came in and I started to get more opportunity and play more minutes,” Laughton said. “When you start playing more minutes, you start getting more comfortable and making more plays. When you’re playing six, seven minutes, it’s tough to get things going but also just learning the league and knowing what you can and can’t do and becoming a pro.”

Since then, Laughton has been a mainstay with the Flyers and has developed into one of the most under-appreciated players not named Sean Couturier. He shed the stigma of having to be a goal scorer based on where he was drafted, and Laughton has become a valuable player that is trusted in every situation.

“You always put pressure on yourself,” Laughton said. “I’ve always been my hardest critic and I know when I’m not playing my best. There’s a lot of pressure but there’s also a lot more opportunity when you’re picked in the first round and they give you some chances to stick around.”

Laughton made the best of those chances and he’s even starting to show flashes of offense more regularly, scoring 18 points in 39 games, prior to Tuesday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

And looking back at the 2012 Draft, the Flyers did pretty well to snag Laughton with the 20th overall pick in the 2012 Entry Draft, all things considered.

The first four picks went: Nail Yakupov (now in the KHL), Ryan Murray (bottom four defenseman for Columbus); Alex Galchenyuk (traded three times in three and a half years); and Griffin Reinhart (KHL).

There were some studs mixed in there, too (Morgan Rielly, Filip Forsberg, Tomas Hertl) before Laughton’s name was called but nothing terribly impressive for the next few rounds. The Flyers got a dependable, flexible player and they signed him to a reasonable $2.3 million cap hit.

If he keeps up with his new role, he won’t be needing a lucky rabbit’s foot.