VOORHEES, N.J. — After spending nearly the entire 2016-17 campaign at Lehigh Valley, Flyers center Scott Laughton looks like a whole different player this season. But the demotion and time spent in the minor leagues aren’t the only reasons behind his NHL rebirth.
Laughton also became a far better skater.
Through eight games, Laughton has two goals and one assist with a plus-one rating — hardly the kind of numbers that typically garner a lot of attention. However, the former first-pick is centering a quality fourth line for the Flyers, a grouping that has been strong in its own end while also generating impressive offensive opportunities at the other. Laughton leads the club’s forwards in shorthanded time on ice as well, playing a huge role in a penalty-killing unit that’s managed to ward off all but one of the last 13 power plays it’s faced.
The difference is apparent, and Laughton knows it, too. Some of that comes with age and experience — he’s only 23, with 117 NHL games under his belt. Yet Laughton directs much of the credit for his growth on the ice to his longtime skating coach, Dawn Braid.
“Worked with the same skating coach I have been for the last six, seven years,” Laughton said Friday of his offseason regimen. “She actually just got hired with Arizona. She was a skating coach there.
“I've been working with her. I did a lot of tight edges, a lot of tight work, and I did a lot of crossovers to try and develop speed. I think everything kind of comes together though — your off-ice training combined with that — and just getting stronger as I get older. I'm getting older and coming into my body.”
A former figure skater, Braid was named the Coyotes' skating coach in August 2016, become the NHL’s first full-time female coach in the process. From the sound of things, the hiring was long overdue.
Braid had built a following around the league, and from players vastly more acclaimed than Laughton.
“She works with (Islanders center and four-time All-Star) John Tavares and helped him,” Laughton said. “She's got (Stars center Jason Spezza). She's got a bunch of guys. A lot of guys go to her. She's like Barb Underhill in Toronto. They were partners.
“I've been skating with her since I was in my first year of juniors, so I really like her.”
It sounds like Laughton is getting an education in more than how to be better on his skates. As Braid has worked with more NHL stars and teams, she begins teaching more than just being quicker and more fluid on the ice.
There are applicable hockey lessons and techniques involved in their training.
“I think she's really incorporated puck work,” Laughton said. “It used to be no pucks. She watches game film and things like that, and sees what's going on in the game and tries to help you that way.”
Whatever Laughton is doing, it appears to be working. A year ago, he couldn’t crack the Flyers’ main roster, managing to appear in just two games. He finished with 19 goals, 20 assists and a plus-17 rating in 60 games for the Phantoms in 2016-17, with an additional two goals and one assist in five playoff tilts. Despite finishing with a 39-33-10 record and missing the postseason, the big club never felt as though Laughton was needed.
It’s early into the 17-18 campaign, but it’s already difficult to imagine this Flyers squad without Laughton’s contributions — so, give the assist to Baird on this one.