When Scott Laughton was drafted in 2012, he instantly became one of the Philadelphia Flyers’ top prospects. Hell, he was their top non-NHL prospect. The cupboard was barren and the Oshawa Generals center looked like he was going to be the next big thing – or at least the next thing.
He was the third overall pick in the 2010 OHL Priority Draft, and he continued to grow his game there. He recorded 23 points (12 goals) in 63 games in his rookie year, and that increased to 53 points (21 goals) in 64 games in the 2011-12 season before being drafted by the Flyers.
The 2012-13 season was shortened due to the lockout, but that didn’t stop Laughton as the junior leagues continued playing. He scored 13 goals and added 20 assists for 33 points in his first 32 games, earning him an invite to the Flyers’ abbreviated training camp in January.
He broke camp with the club and made his NHL debut on January 19th, 2013, but only played the five games that were allowed before returning to the OHL. The Flyers were impressed with Laughton despite him not recording a point, and the forward kept up his scoring barrage in the rest of the OHL season.
Laughton finished with 56 points (23 goals) in 49 games for the Generals, then joined the Adirondack Phantoms to end the season. It was there that he scored his first professional goal and added two assists in six games.
There was hope that Laughton would make the Flyers yet again to start the 2013-14 season. He played well in training camp and the preseason in 2013, but ultimately returned to Oshawa for his final OHL season. It was then that he really put on a show, scoring 40 goals and adding 47 assists for 87 points in 54 games. He added 11 points (four goals) in nine playoff games as well.
With his OHL career behind him, it was time for Laughton to finally make the transition to professional hockey and hopefully earn his spot on the Flyers for good. However, he recorded just six points (two goals) in 31 NHL games. He played most of the season with the Phantoms, picking up 14 goals and 13 assists for 27 points in 39 games.
Still, those were pretty good numbers for a rookie and the 27 points were a promising sign moving forward. The Flyers had one of their worst seasons in ‘14-15 and Laughton was bound to be a part of the bounce back the next year, right?
Well, this is where Laughton started to disappoint. Laughton spent the entire 2015-16 season with the Flyers, and the team made the playoffs, but the forward wasn’t a big part of that. He played in 71 games, primarily in the bottom six, and scored just seven goals and added 14 assists for 21 points. His underlying stats weren’t very good either with a 47.42 Corsi-For percentage (-3.91 relative).
There’s not much to be happy with in those numbers, and it showed. Laughton was sent to the AHL for almost the entirety of the 2016-17 season. He was no longer a top prospect, or even a young player that the team could count on or look forward to making an impact with the club. He was nearing “bust” territory, but he was still only 22 years old.
He did well enough in his season with the Phantoms to be protected in the expansion draft, which was surprising at the time due to his standing in the organization. The team instead lost Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to the Vegas Golden Knights, opening up a roster spot for a bottom-six center.
Laughton was sent to the AHL with one primary focus: work on his two-way game to become a better overall player. And that’s exactly what he did. He wasn’t able to rely on his skill and speed to simply overpower players like he could in juniors, and he wasn’t going to be a high-scoring forward at the NHL level. He turned himself into a two-way center that is a menace to play against, and he has been that for the Flyers over the past three seasons.
He only scored 10 goals and put up 20 points in that 2017-18 season, but he only missed one game and was a force on the fourth line. He played mostly (159 minutes) with Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl, with a line of him, Raffl, and Jordan Weal also playing 98 minutes together. The newfound fourth-line center’s improved game resulted in driving play as a role player, posting a 51.6 CF% (+2.29 relative). Only Sean Couturier (53.25 CF%), Claude Giroux (52.91 CF%), and linemate Leier (51.91 CF%) had better possession numbers.
Laughton has continued to grow into his role as a fourth-line center, even moving up to the third line – and second line (as a winger) at times!
It’s been a rollercoaster eight years after being drafted for Scott Laughton, but it has shaped him into a great role player on the Flyers. He went from the high highs of a first-round pick and top prospect earlier in the decade to the low of spending a year in the AHL after it looked like he was in the NHL for good at the beginning of the 2015-16 season.
Now, Laughton has been one of the Flyers’ best bottom-six forwards this season. He hasn’t scored at the rate of a James van Riemsdyk, but he has completely owned his role on the team. He chips in offensively, is great on the penalty kill, and can slide up and down the lineup when necessary. After recording 32 points (12 goals) in 82 games last season, Laughton was well on pace to surpass those numbers this season despite an injury. He has 13 goals – one more than last season – and 27 points in just 49 games.
An underdog can be many things, and Scott Laughton became one after being demoted to the AHL in 2016. He was written off by the fans and the organization, but he worked on his game and became the player that he is today. First-round picks aren’t always going to work out as planned, or at all, but Laughton worked to make sure that he’d become an effective NHL player.