Flyers

In a flash, Scott Laughton shows Flyers what he 'lost' 2 years ago

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AP Images

In a flash, Scott Laughton shows Flyers what he 'lost' 2 years ago

It was Scott Laughton's first regular-season game at the Wells Fargo Center in 324 days.
 
And it took just one play to show he's a changed player.
 
Showing passion and effort in a not-so-glamorous role, Laughton made a pair of intelligent reads to score a tide-turning shorthanded goal, possibly the most influential marker Saturday in an 8-2 blowout of the Washington Capitals.
 
Playing on a late first-period penalty kill, Laughton aggressively jumped a pass near the blue line. Then, as goalie Philipp Grubauer abandoned his crease to poke the deflected puck away, Laughton played it perfectly, intercepting the attempt before flushing it in the open net for a 2-1 lead.

"That's the biggest point in the hockey game right there," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "Late in the period, for us to be able to score a shorthanded goal and turn that momentum back in our favor, I thought that was the key point of the hockey game. He made a good read and then made a heck of a play to get in and finish it."
 
The play was big for the game, but even more so for Laughton's declaration of being a different guy. During the offseason and into training camp, so much talk had been made of the 23-year-old forward's revamped game and focus.
 
This was the action.
 
"Be a good defensive player," Laughton said of his new approach, which started last season with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. "I think I lost it a little bit there two years ago. Be good on the PK, taking big D-zone draws, things like that. Just tried to focus on that and continue to take it over to this year."
 
Laughton was a first-round pick of the Flyers at 20th overall in 2012. He scored in waves at the junior level, highlighted by a 40-goal, 47-assist 2013-14 season with the OHL's Oshawa Generals. After 71 games in 2015-16 with the Flyers, his first full NHL season, Laughton expressed his goals for what was next.
 
"I want to be a top-six forward in the NHL," Laughton said in April 2016. "And I am going to do everything I can this summer to try and do that.

"I know a lot of people put a third-line ceiling on me and things like that. But I played top six in junior and did all that. So that's what I am going to be looking to try to do. I am going to try to score some more goals and things like that. But that's my goal."
 
And there was nothing wrong with that. But right now, Laughton is on the fourth line and has never been in a better state with the Flyers. Following just two games with the Flyers last season and 60 with the Phantoms, Laughton had a realization.
 
He knew what general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers truly wanted from him.
 
"I think last year really helped my game plan in all situations, really contributing down in the minors," Laughton said. "I think that was best for me and Hexy kind of told me that, played in all situations. I think it's helped my game, but at the same time, I've got to continue to go. It's only five games into the year and I've got to maintain it and be consistent."
 
In Saturday's home opener, Laughton added an even-strength tally in the third period, giving him the first two-goal game of his NHL career.
 
"He looks like he's a lot more confident, I think he knows his role and what’s expected of him," Wayne Simmonds said. "He's got a ton of offensive time at the same time, so you put him in a position to succeed and he's going to succeed, and I think that's what he's doing."
 
Through five games, Laughton leads all Flyers forwards in shorthanded ice time (11:25) and shorthanded faceoffs won (eight). Not only has he found his niche, but he also hasn't forgotten the offense. Laughton sees a way to still provide an offensive spark on the fourth line with Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl.
 
"They both make plays, they're both quick — that's what we try and do," Laughton said. "We've been playing pretty good minutes, been good on the PK. Just trying to play that role and use our skill when we can and spend a lot of time in the offensive zone — I think that's a big thing."
 
The big thing for Laughton was working his way back here.
 
"Laughts has been dialed in from Day 1 of camp," Hakstol said. "His focus, energy and effort level hasn't changed once. I think he's found some chemistry and cohesion with his two linemates. That line, we trust that group for different roles. … I think they've been a catalyst for our team. Laughts is the guy that's playing up the middle there, so he's the backbone of that line.
 
"He hit some bumps in the road last year, handled them extremely well. You know what, he's the one that deserves full credit for putting himself back in this position."

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

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USA Today Images

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

With the Flyers' elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team's third-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft was officially transferred over to the Red Wings.

What was originally a fourth-round selection in the acquisition of goaltender Petr Mrazek was upgraded to a third-rounder once Mrazek won five regular-season games and the Flyers qualified for the postseason.

The Flyers could potentially still owe the Red Wings a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft if Mrazek is re-signed. However, that seems unlikely with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth already under contract for next season and Mrazek’s poor play over the final five weeks of the regular season.

In all likelihood, the Flyers will have the 19th overall pick in the June draft, which is scheduled for June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. If the Blue Jackets are eliminated before the Eastern Conference Finals, then they will select 18th with the Flyers slotted in at the 19th selection.

Once again, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will be watching intently during Saturday’s NHL draft lottery, where the Flyers could also acquire the St. Louis Blues' first-round selection.

The Flyers have a 95 percent chance of obtaining the Blues' first pick as compensation in the Brayden Schenn trade that was completed at last year’s draft in Chicago. 

The Blues' pick is top-10 protected, but they have only a five percent chance of moving into the top three — 1.5 percent for No. 1 overall, 1.7 for No. 2, 1.8 for No. 3, 91.8 for No. 14 and 3.2 for No. 15. So, either the Blues draft in the top three, they remain at 14 or fall back to 15.

However, as Hextall discovered just a year ago, anything is possible.

Last year, the Flyers made the monumental leap from the 13th-worst record in the league to obtaining the second overall pick — a lottery move that had just a 2.4 percent chance of falling in their favor. With that selection, the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick.

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and a future cornerstone blueliner. 

The NHL draft lottery is held in Toronto.

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Dave Hakstol lifted his arm effortlessly with his hand steadily inclining toward the ceiling, almost portraying the takeoff of an airplane.

He was discussing the timeline for young hockey players, which his Flyers have a lot of and will gain only more as the blocks are stacked one by one.

And as the head coach digested a topsy-turvy, season-ending loss, his demonstration depicted what he knew wasn't the case.

"You always want development to be this smooth path and this smooth climb; it doesn't work that way," Hakstol said. "It's kind of a jagged climb, and as long as you're seeing a steady push to improve, then you stick with it and keep pushing in that direction."

The Flyers have been allowed to hit those jagged edges on their climb, like Sunday's 8-5 Game 6 defeat to the Penguins (see story). It was the final swing (and miss) in a best-of-seven first-round playoff matchup with the two-time defending champs, another cut along the grand hike for the Flyers.

But with it came a signal.

This is no longer the bottom of the mountain. The trek has been underway for three seasons and the long view should, expectedly, be coming into focus. In 2018-19, Hakstol will enter the fourth year of a five-year contract, according to CapFriendly.com. The Flyers' core, looking at its peak, will be a year older, as will the foundation pieces, already here and being counted on to drive things forward. 

The Flyers played four rookies in the playoffs, while five of their top eight regular-season goal scorers were 25 years old or younger. 

"For the most part, I liked the growth of our young guys," Hakstol said. "I think they had an opportunity to really see some tough points during the year and figure out how to be a part of battling out of them. They had the opportunity to play through and be part of a playoff push that other teams weren't going away, and we knew that with eight to 10 games to go, we knew that we would have to win our way in. So they had the opportunity to be a part of that and gain that experience of understanding and knowing how hard that is. And they were successful in that."

It resulted in 42 wins and 98 points during the regular season, both highs under Hakstol, surpassing the 41 and 96 set in Year 1. It also led to another first-round exit, the second under Hakstol against a topflight opponent. In those series, the Flyers went 1-5 at home, where they were outscored 26-9.

Harsh yet clear reminders the Flyers aren't where they want to be.

The Penguins, no duh, are. 

"We're working to build toward something like that," Wayne Simmonds said. "I thought we took a step in the right direction this year."

Claude Giroux, the 102-point, 30-year-old captain, sees it, too.

"I know for a fact that we got better as the season went on," Giroux said. "Look at our team last year and look at our team this year. We improved a lot."

While patience is always of the essence with general manager Ron Hextall, Year 4 will demand much more, unlike seasons past. This is Hakstol's team — the blocks are in place, both old and now not so new.

"There's going to be a lot of good and a lot of things that we'll say, 'Hey, these are good steps for our team,'" Hakstol said of this season. "End of the day, we didn't come into this playoff series to make steps, though."

That undoubtedly won't be the objective in 2018-19. It can't be, and the Flyers should know it.