scott laughton

Scott Laughton credits longtime skating coach Dawn Braid for NHL rebirth

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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 notes, quotes and tidbits: Connor McDavid comes to town; Matt Read to play?

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Connor McDavid comes to town; Matt Read to play?

VOORHEES, N.J. — Believe it or not, the Flyers are aware of 20-year-old Oilers phenom Connor McDavid. That doesn't make preparing for the 2017 Art Ross Trophy (most points in NHL) winner any easier, let alone slow him down.

“You have to be understated a little bit and say you're going to be aware when he's on the ice, but obviously there's more to it," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Friday. "He's a heck of a player and a guy that can make something happen at any time.”

McDavid has picked up right where he left off last season when he led the NHL with 100 points and 70 assists. Six games into the 2017-18 campaign, the third-year centerman already has three goals and five assists, and he's doing it in style. His two helpers helped lift Edmonton over the Blackhawks on Thursday, one of which led to the game-winner in overtime, the other — a no-look, behind-the-back pass — making highlight reels everywhere.

So, yeah, the Flyers are well aware of McDavid and what he's capable of. That doesn't mean he'll be easy to stop.

"We just have to take time and space away from him," defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. "That's the biggest thing. You just can't give him space out there. He's going to wind it up and wheel.

“We're aware of it. We're going to stick to our game plan, nothing special, but obviously be aware when he's on the ice.”

The Flyers knew all about McDavid last season, too. He still managed to find the back of the net twice and rack up three assists in those two meetings.

McDavid has also experienced success against both of the Flyers netminders. As a member of the Flames, probable starter Brian Elliott posted an 0-3-1 record with a .870 save percentage in four appearances against the Oilers in 2016-17. Michal Neuvirth was 0-1 and allowed six goals in his only meeting.

It seems all the Flyers can do is be aware of the challenges McDavid presents.

"Probably everywhere they go, they have reporters asking the other team what their plan is against him," Elliott said.

“He's just a unique talent that you have to be aware of at all times. He's able to make plays that a lot of other guys aren't. You just have to be on your toes. You have to respect him, but you have to play your game and make sure you're tough no matter who it is out there.”

Laughton confident
Brandon Manning isn't the only member of the Flyers who has experience with McDavid. Scott Laughton has been up close and personal with the budding superstar, having played against him in junior and in some camps.

With Laughton centering the Flyers' fourth line, he should have some opportunities to put his familiarity of McDavid to the test. The Flyers are going to need any advantage they can get — no matter how small or insignificant it might seem.

"I went to a pro camp with McDavid in Toronto in the summer, and he's special," Laughton said. "He's got the best hands I've seen. He's a world-class talent.

“At the same time, tomorrow I'm going to try to limit his space, get in his face and make it hard for him to get going and get speed. I think I can try to keep up with him once I get my speed going.”

Laughton seemed confident about potentially matching up against McDavid. At least he has a plan, anyway.

“There's not much you can do," Laughton said. "You just have to be hard to play against, be in his face all night and kind of get him off his game that way.”

Injury report
Flyers forwards Wayne Simmonds and Taylor Leier both missed Friday's skate with what the club termed as maintenance days.

Simmonds was already dealing with a lower-body injury before he was clipped in the face by a stick during Thursday's 1-0 loss to the Predators. It doesn't sound like anything that should prevent the 10-year veteran from suiting up against the Oilers, but clearly, he's banged up right now.

Leier's absence was a bit more of a mystery, and given the 23-year-old rookie's inexperience, missing practice would seem to point to an injury of some kind.

In a bit of good news on the injury front, Jordan Weal returned to practice for the Flyers. However, he refused to let on as to whether he'll be on the ice Saturday.

“Just got out there, went for a twirl," Weal said. "It's day to day right now, so just taking it day by day.”

Matt Read replaced Simmonds during the skate and could be preparing to make his regular-season debut. Read joined Weal and Valtteri Filppula on Simmonds' unit, while Jori Lehtera took Leier's place on the fourth line.

Don't read too much into those combinations, however, as the availability of Simmonds, Weal and Leier will no doubt play a role.

Sanheim sticks in the lineup
Following his strong showing against Nashville on Thursday, it appears rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim will suit up for his second game in a row.

Sanheim was a healthy scratch for the Flyers' previous two contests but drew rave reviews for his performance against the Predators. He was paired with Radko Gudas at practice, while Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg continued their partnership.

Manning may be the odd man out Saturday, despite his history with McDavid. Ivan Provorov and Andrew MacDonald remained a unit at practice, with Manning getting some work in MacDonald's spot.

Manning was hopeful he would be in uniform. Hakstol, on the other hand, downplayed Manning's personal rivalry with McDavid as it pertains to any decision about which defensemen will skate.

“It's a situation for us every game where we have that tough decision," Hakstol said. "Regardless of whether it's one particular team, we'll look at it situationally and consider all of those factors as to who the six are that dress tomorrow. There's a lot of different factors involved."

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

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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."