By Harry Allison
In a week that saw the Flyers see-saw from the exhilaration of knocking off the defending Stanley Cup champ L. A. Kings to a depressing loss at Tampa Bay, there is solidly good news in Lehigh Valley, their American Hockey League affiliate.
In a league full of younger players looking to reach the NHL, Scott Laughton, the 20th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, has shown poise in tough situations that is helping differentiate him from his peers.
Beginning his first pro season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Laughton, now 20, has made an early statement.
“He makes a lot of plays that generate a lot of space for himself,” Phantoms right wing Andrew Gordonsaid. “You’ll think the defense has him cornered but he’ll be able to open himself up and find six feet of space to get that next play made. That’s a sign of maturity in his game, his ability not to panic and to make something out of nothing.”
Gordon, 28, is a two-time Calder Cup champion and two-time AHL All-Star in his eighth pro season. He and rookie left wing Taylor Leier have flanked Laughton so far this season, and they have accounted for seven goals and 14 points in the Phantoms’ first seven games.
“Scott got some NHL time really early in his career so he’s hungry to get back there and you can sort of see that in his game,” Gordon said. “He’s got the pace of [the AHL] down pat already. If he keeps going he’s not going to be in this league very long.”
For Laughton, who cites Philly captain Claude Giroux as one of the players he watches closely, the expectations set, fairly or not, often are background noise as he moves through the day.
“I try not to let it affect me, and I think pressure is a good thing,” he said. “I think I’ve played well under it and I’m just trying to continue to play my game and not worry about the outside stuff too much.”
That plan seems to be working well so far; he’s tied for first among AHL rookies with five goals and tied for third with seven points.
His play has ignited Lehigh Valley to start the season, something that has not gone unnoticed.
“Right from the drop of the puck in Game One he was really impressive to me with the way he makes plays under pressure,” Gordon said. “The game just comes very naturally to him.”
On Oct. 20 Laughton was named CCM/AHL Player of the Week after he had four goals in two games, including two power-play goals Oct. 17 against the Adirondack Flames. His first goal of the season was the first goal scored at PPL Center, the Phantoms’ just-opened home in Allentown, Pa.
Laughton made his debut with the Flyers just seven months after he was drafted and had 10 shots on goal in five games early in the 2012-13 season before being returned to his junior team, the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League. He got his first taste of the AHL that spring and had one goal and two assists in six games with the Adirondack Phantoms.
Adjusting to pro hockey isn’t easy. Laughton knows that, and learning from the leadership group in Lehigh Valley has helped him grow his game on and off the ice.
“The stuff in the gym is a lot different than in junior hockey where you’re coming from school and you’re just kind of getting right on the ice,” he said. “But this is your job now. It’s your lifestyle. The way guys like [Darroll Powe and Gordon] spend their extra time on their game after practice. … It’s been huge for me to see them doing what it takes.”
Attitude is everything and so is perspective. Both are things Laughton has in abundance.
“That’s the biggest thing for me: To get better and hopefully make my way up [to Philly] at some point and stay there and try and be a reliable guy,” he said. “When I go up I want to stay and try to make an impact.”
Every player’s dream is the NHL, and Laughton’s brief taste of being with the Flyers hasn’t faded from his memory. But his focus is on the present and fine-tuning his game.
“We’ve gotten off to a pretty good start and I think we’ve been close in every game,” he said. “I definitely want to help this team make the playoffs. They’ve been out the last three years or so and I want to help try and get us back in there and have a good push.”