While the 2021-22 Philadelphia Flyers were littered with players who underperformed, Scott Laughton was among the few who could be categorized as performing at or above expectations.
The Swiss Army knife turned in another productive season, posting a near career-best .45 points per game despite being thrust into a variety of situations under both coaching staff this past year at all strengths moving up and down the lineup. Laughton’s solid two-way play was a rarity in a team that had issues defensively across the board on forward and at defense.
Now 28-years-old, the former 20th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft has settled into a core piece of the franchise — earning a five-year, $15 million extension in April of 2021. Laughton has also taken on more of a leadership role in the past few seasons as veterans have moved on and is firmly in the discussion for perhaps wearing the “C” in the near future.
Scott Laughton (5x3m extension with Philadelphia) is a second-liner with a great shot. pic.twitter.com/u8wlDIrn1H— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) April 12, 2021
Laughton’s performance last season shouldn’t be ignored for a variety of reasons, starting with his status as part of the emerging leadership group in the post Claude Giroux era, but also because of his on-ice value — which could be a boon for the Flyers should the 2022-23 campaign turn south and a roster overhaul take place.
A player or Laughton’s caliber compounded by his relatively affordable contract should carry plenty of value around a league looking for controllable assets. Just ask the Tampa Bay Lightning if they’re open to paying a premium for valuable, cost controlled players.
But that’s a future discussion, and in the meantime Laughton remains a useful player in the Flyers’ middle six that has earned expanded roles in terms of lineup and leadership opportunities.
By the Numbers
We already touched on Laughton’s offensive production, where he was a touch of his career-best pace of .55 points per game. The results were a fourth double-digit goal scoring campaign — including nine at even strength despite starting more than 54% of his shift at evens in the defensive zone.
Laughton held his own at 5-on-5 (-0.8 Corsi For Relative) despite that noted zone start percentage and a rather hodgepodge batch of teammates throughout the season. One of those common linemates ended up being James van Riemsdyk, who fell out of favor across two coaching staffs and spend a ton of time in the bottom six. Not know for his defensive acumen, JVR was often propped up by Laughton’s fine work.
One — well continued negative — is that Laughton was again a key player on one of the NHL’s worst penalty kills in 2021-22. This has been an issue for the Flyers year-in and year-out the past decade really, and Laughton was again top five among forward in terms of total penalty kill time on ice (1:44 per game).
Though Laughton is essentially a finished produce going into his age-28 season, there is still a bit more left to project offensively for the former first-round pick. Laughton’s play driving numbers were trending in the right direction alongside more skilled players like Travis Konecny and Joel Farabee and predictably driven down with sloggers like JVR, Patrick Brown, Jackson Cates, and Nate Thompson among others.
If the Flyers can ever find a bottom six center who can actually be effective in the Laughton role, it can open up No. 21 for more time in the neutral and offensive zone and perhaps unlock more of the offensive potential that scouts saw back in the day to add more value to his game.
Three Thoughts on Scott Laughts
On offensive production, it’s fair to wonder if Laughton adopting a more aggressive shoot-first mentally would produce perhaps a 20-goal scorer. He’s a career 9.7% shooter, and and yet has never topped 130 shots in any full season — with a slightly more relaxed shift deployment perhaps he’s up in the 150 range and getting to more of the potential we’ve seen over the years.
Second, it was really great to see Laughton step into a leadership role last season even before the Giroux trade. Though his career didn’t exactly go to plan, Laughton has brought everything he’s had to every game and has committed himself to molding his game at different points to help serve roles within the organization. He paid his dues and his work ethic is something for younger players to look to, and that holds a ton of value outside of the box score.
With that in mind, would wonder if Laughton gets real strong consideration to be the Flyers’ next captain. Sean Couturier would be another obvious choice, but Laughton would allow Couturier to continue to serve as the Flyers’ best player without the extra added weight of captaincy on top. He’s respected in the room, isn’t shy about standing up for his guys, and bring a work ethic mentality that the Flyers desperately need to permeate throughout their organization — and fast.
Gavin Bayreuther hits Oskar Lindblom, and Scott Laughton makes him pay. pic.twitter.com/Ukj0R3i1iC— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) January 21, 2022
All stats via Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference, and Evolving-Hockey unless otherwise noted.