Flyers

Scott Laughton credits longtime skating coach Dawn Braid for NHL rebirth

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AP Images

Scott Laughton credits longtime skating coach Dawn Braid for NHL rebirth

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.

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.