The NHL draft is a funny thing. The Flyers have had success with their first round picks for over a decade, finding late-first-round gems Simon Gagne (No. 22, 1998), Justin Williams (No. 28, 2000), Mike Richards (No. 24, 2003), Claude Giroux (No. 22, 2006), and more. As a result, we should generally defer to their judgment on these things.
Still, I'm skeptical of picking Scott Laughton at No. 20.
In general, my philosophy is to take the best player available, regardless of every other factor. This philosophy led us to select forward Brendan Gaunce in the SB Nation Mock Draft over Slater Koekkoek, who was actually taken tenth overall by Tampa Bay. The Flyers have repeatedly said this is their philosophy as well.
However, most services -- from Central Scouting to TSN to NHL Numbers -- had Laughton as a late-first to high second round pick, right where he was ultimately selected by the Flyers. But he was routinely, if not always, ranked below both defenseman Olli Maatta and Gaunce on Friday night. NHL Numbers and Hockey Prospectus ranked both Maatta and Gaunce ahead of Laughton.
An in-depth report on the Draft from The Hockey Writers graded the Laughton pick a "C+", mostly because the Flyers didn't need a center. Matt Wagner graded the Flyers first two picks a "B" over at SBNation.com, so the general consensus seems to be lukewarm at best.
Why? First, compare Laughton's numbers to Gaunce's.
|Brendan Gaunce||Regular Season||Playoffs|
|Scott Laughton||Regular Season||Playoffs|
Strictly in terms of production, Gaunce is a better performer. They both are mentioned as two-way centers with impeccable work ethic and intangibles, but one has succeeded in the OHL and another hasn't. Still, the two seem quite comparable and are likely only separated by the organization's gut instinct, which we've already said is worthy of trust in these matters.
But when I look at THW's evaluation of risk with these two players, they list Laughton as a 3/5 risk while Gaunce is a 0.5/5 risk. They have the same reward and similar ceilings -- second or third line center for Laughton, second line center for Gaunce. In terms of when they are expected to be NHL ready, Laughton was listed as 3-4 years while Gaunce was seen as one year away.
I don't like taking risks in the first round. Maybe you do, but when the reward is the same, why would you take the riskier bet?
Still, the difference between Gaunce and Laughton is not wide enough to get upset about. I am only looking at a few things and evaluating paper rankings by others, completely unaware of what to look for. I'm skeptical that Laughton will be a better NHL player than Gaunce, but what do I know?
Instead, my issue -- and one I imagine many Flyers fans have as well- - is that the Flyers took Laughton over Olli Maatta.
Many people wanted the Flyers to go after a defenseman. Several BSH readers were hoping for Maatta, and we at SB Nation expected him to be taken prior to pick 20. In the SB Nation Mock Draft he was taken with the No. 14 pick by the Calgary Flames.
Maatta was considered a top-15 pick by many services (No. 14 by NHLNumbers, No. 8 by Central Scouting, No. 10 by TSN, No. 21 by Hockey Prospectus) that could sneak into the top-10. To have him around at No. 20 was unlikely, perhaps impossible.
Comparing his THW scouting report to Laughton shows an equally high reward (4/5), but with less risk than Laughton (2/5 instead of Laughton's 3/5). Maatta is also listed as having top pairing defensemen potential, which is a higher ceiling than Laughton. Both are expected to take 3 years to reach the NHL.
It's easy to second guess on draft day, or the day after. It's easy to read a handful of scouting reports and determine that your point is correct. It's certainly possible that I am guilty of these things.
It's also certainly true that Laughton's draft stock rose as the year went on, as he had a successful second half and playoffs. He also is no slouch, as he was predicted to be a first round pick, so this whole thing could easily be seen as splitting hairs.
All that said, I still do not understand the pick. Take Laughton over Gaunce? Sure, the Flyers' draft team has earned the trust for me to shrug and move on. Laughton over Maatta, though? I am doubtful Laughton becomes a better NHL player than Maatta, so I would be a lot more comfortable with an explanation for why the organization thought Laughton was the best available.
He may turn out to be the better NHL player, but right now, I don't know why I should believe he will be.