Finding two-way balance Scott Laughton's key to finally sticking with Flyers

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Finding two-way balance Scott Laughton's key to finally sticking with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — The 2012 NHL entry draft is an excellent case study in how the career of an NHL prospect and the future of a first-round pick can venture in one of two directions.

Scott Laughton was the Flyers’ first-round selection that year, taken 20th overall. Laughton can begin to comprehend how that fork in the road has affected two guys selected just before him.

The Buffalo Sabres had a pair of first-round selections. With the 12th overall choice, the Sabres snatched Russian Mikhail Grigorenko, who was ranked third by NHL Central Scouting among all North American skaters. The Sabres came right back two picks later and grabbed another projected first-rounder, but not nearly as touted, Latvian Zemgus Girgensons.
In Grigorenko’s defense, Buffalo rushed him to the NHL at the age of 18, and clearly before he was ready. Over the course of the next three seasons, he bounced back and forth between the NHL and the AHL while never fully grasping that his skills weren’t quite good enough to be a top-six forward. In my conversations with coaches and GMs, Grigorenko also had a belief that he was a “superstar-in-the-making” whom the coaching staff was holding back and felt the “grunt work” of killing penalties and playing solid defense was reserved for players drafted much later than him. In 2015, the Sabres utilized what little value Grigorenko had left and shipped him to Colorado in a multi-player deal for star Ryan O’Reilly.   

At 18, Girgensons, unlike Grigorenko, spent the year he was drafted with the Sabres’ AHL affiliate the Rochester Americans. Because Girgensons committed to play in the NCAA and elected to go pro, he was eligible to play in the AHL. Girgensons developed more of a “blue-collar” approach as an effective penalty killer and has become the Sabres’ shutdown center who plays a very solid defensive game and is tough along the boards, all while continuing to improve at faceoffs.

Laughton, who was seated not too far from both guys at that draft in Pittsburgh that year, is starting to figure out the best way to secure an NHL job is taking the Girgensons approach to the game, and not the one paved by Grigorenko.

“I think I was caught in between there for a little bit, and that’s why I was up and down,” Laughton said Monday. “I still think I can be an offensive threat and be a good offensive guy, but I think I’ve got to take care of my own zone. I think just taking that defensive approach. I think that’s what’s going to help me stay in this league.”

Laughton’s evolution as a better two-way player was evident during Sunday’s preseason opener against the Islanders when the line of Laughton, Matt Read and Michael Raffl was tasked with shutting down the Isles’ top line of John Tavares, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee. Even though Tavares scored twice, his tallies weren’t at the expense of Laughton or his linemates.

“I thought playing to his role, he did an outstanding job — in the faceoff dot, killing penalties, strong two-way play," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Sunday. "He did a real good job."

Laughton may have been the Flyers’ forgotten recent first-rounder last season after spending the entire year, minus two games, with the Phantoms in Lehigh Valley. The experience was immeasurable, as he sacrificed offensive glory to become the type of player the organization had envisioned.
“I think that was the biggest thing, not playing power play, just being down there taking key faceoffs and just finding my role I think,” Laughton said. “It’s nice when you have a good year in the minors. I know it’s a different league. I’m kind of building off last year and that’s what I’m trying to do. Just coming to camp, be prepared and play hard against guys. Do what I did last year and it’ll take me a long way.”

General manager Ron Hextall recognized that progression and elected to protect the younger Laughton in the June expansion draft over 32-year-old Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who had established himself as a solid checking-line center during his three years in Philadelphia.

“Definitely was a surprise,” Laughton said of being protected. “I didn’t see it coming at all, but it felt good. I’ve been in this organization for five years now and I’m still trying to stick around and become a full-time NHLer, and I truly believe this is my year.”

Perhaps Laughton will develop into the Flyers’ version of Girgensons, one of two All-Stars from that 2012 draft class, who just re-signed with the Sabres for two more years at $3.2 million. As for Grigorenko, the Colorado Avalanche, unquestionably the worst non-expansion team in the NHL entering this season, elected to cut him loose this summer. Grigorenko inked a deal in July to play in the KHL. A promising one-time prospect‘s NHL career appears to be over at the age of 23.

Loose pucks
• The Flyers cut two more players from their training camp roster, which now stands at 55. Forward Anthony Salinitri was returned to his junior team, the Sarnia Sting. Defenseman Frank Hora will report to the Phantoms starting Thursday.

• Hakstol elected to split his two groups Monday into an NHL morning group and an AHL afternoon group, although the two teams will be combined when the Flyers play split-squad games against the New York Islanders Wednesday — one at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the other at Barclays Center in New York.

• Forward Wayne Simmonds was not on the ice for Monday’s practice. Hakstol said Simmonds was given a maintenance day.  

• For the first time since camp opened Friday, the Flyers worked on Hakstol’s systems, which included more structure on the team’s breakouts. Much of the focus through the first four days has been on individual battles in close quarters. One drill included intense 1-on-1 play with a goaltender at one end of the faceoff circle and another goalie directly across from him. “It’s important in today’s hockey because every single team overloads in the defensive zone,” Jakub Voracek said. “You need to win those battles, 1-on-1 and 2-on-2, they’re really important."

Monday's lines and pairings
Oskar Lindblom-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek
Dale Weise-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Taylor Leier
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Colin McDonald
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Matt Read

Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Sam Morin-Travis Sanheim
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Future Flyers Report — Anthony Stolarz's long road back to playing

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Future Flyers Report — Anthony Stolarz's long road back to playing

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects.

Anthony Stolarz, G, 24, 6-6/232, Reading (ECHL)
It was a long road back but Stolarz found his way back on the ice last week.

Stolarz began his rehab stint with the Royals and it doesn’t appear to be a long one. Per Jason Guarente, Stolarz packed up his gear Saturday and appears headed back to Lehigh Valley.

With Reading, Stolarz allowed six goals on 61 shots. As of this post, he has yet to be recalled.

The 24-year-old had been out since last April and underwent left knee surgery in September. Now that he’s back on the ice, expect Stolarz to see some AHL action. He’s on a one-year deal.

Carter Hart, G, 19, 6-1/177, Everett (WHL)
Well, some disappointing news first. He failed to break the WHL shutout record, allowing one goal in Everett’s final regular-season game. He finishes his junior career with 26 shutouts.

Hart enjoyed one of the best junior seasons ever from a goalie and dominated the WHL. He led the league in goals-against average (1.60), save percentage (.947) and shutouts (7). The disparity between Hart and the No. 2 goalie, Cole Kehler, in GAA is remarkable. Hart finished with more than a goal better average than Kehler’s 2.77. Griffin Outhouse was second in save percentage, with .914. Hart was head and shoulders above his peers in the WHL.

Up next, the WHL playoffs. Then next season, the AHL. Hart watch is ramping up.

Morgan Frost, C, 18, 5-11/172, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Frost’s quest to lead the OHL in points came up short but the Flyers' “other” 2017 first-round pick finished his draft-plus-1 season as a 1.67 point-per-game player.

The 18-year-old’s regular season ended Sunday with a goal and an assist. He finished the season with 42 goals, 70 assists and 112 points and led the OHL as a plus-70 player. Next up is the OHL playoffs.

Let’s cool the jets on the Frost on the Flyers talk next season. There is a chance he outshines the competition in training camp but he still needs to bulk up a considerable amount.

March Madness
The NCAA Tournament begins Friday. It’ll feature four Flyers prospects, Michigan’s Cooper Marody and Brendan Warren, Ohio State’s Tanner Laczynski and Clarkson’s Terrance Amorosa.

Quick Hits
• Phantoms center Mikhail Vorobyev remained hot last week with two assists in three weekend games. He has eight points in his last nine games.

• Pascal Laberge’s point streak reached nine games before ending Friday. He finished the regular season with 47 points in 64 games between Quebec and Victoriaville.

• Matthew Strome, who signed his entry-level contract last week, finished the regular season with Hamilton with 37 goals and 68 points.

Isaac Ratcliffe’s season wrapped up on a four-game point streak and three-game goal streak. Ratcliffe led Guelph with 41 goals and 68 points.

• The Flyers signed Maksim Sushko to his entry-level contract. Sushko finished with 31 goals and 60 points. Five of the Flyers’ seven 2017 draft picks have signed.

Ducks help Flyers out by downing Devils

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Ducks help Flyers out by downing Devils

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Brandon Montour scored a power-play goal, helping lift the Anaheim Ducks into third place in the Pacific Division with a 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night.

Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell each had a goal and an assist, and Jakob Silfverberg also scored for the Ducks, who lead Los Angeles by two points in the division. Anaheim won its third straight game and is 6-1-0 in its last seven at home.

John Gibson made 15 saves, improving to 9-2-0 in his last 11 starts.

Kyle Palmieri had a power-play goal and Patrick Maroon also scored for the Devils, who had won the first three games of their six-game road trip. Keith Kinkaid made 32 saves, ending a four-start winning streak.

New Jersey holds the second wild-card in the Eastern Conference, five points ahead of Florida (see full recap).

Karlsson's hat trick helps Vegas beat Flames
LAS VEGAS -- William Karlsson scored a natural hat trick to lead the Vegas Golden Knights to a 4-0 victory over the Calgary Flames on Sunday.

Colin Miller also scored as Vegas snapped a four-game home losing streak and improved to 25-9-2 at T Mobile Arena.

Marc-Andre Fleury, who made his 20th start in 21 games, made 42 saves. In getting his 48th career shutout and fourth of the season, Fleury moved into a tie with Chris Osgood for 12th all-time amongst goaltenders at 401.

Vegas improved to 3-0-0 against Calgary while outscoring the Flames 15-5. The teams meet once more, in the regular-season finale at Calgary on April 7 (see full recap).

Laine scores twice, matches Ovechkin for NHL goal lead
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Patrik Laine scored twice to extend his point streak to 15 games and tie Alex Ovechkin for the NHL goal lead, and the Winnipeg Jets beat the Dallas Stars 4-3 on Sunday night to match the franchise wins record at 43.

The second-year sniper has 43 goals, matching the total from Ovechkin, the Washington star and Laine's boyhood favorite. Laine's point streak is the longest active run in the NHL and adds to his league record for the longest point streak by a teenager. The streak includes 18 goals and eight assists.

Ben Chiarot also scored and Blake Wheeler added an empty-netter for Winnipeg.

Mattias Janmark and Jamie Benn each scored for Dallas (see full recap).