In the first few weeks of the 2014-15 AHL season, Philadelphia Flyers’ top prospect and 2012 first round pick Scott Laughton has perhaps given glimpses of what is to come as he begins his pro career with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Laughton tallied a goal and set up a Shayne Gostisbehere power play goal in an NHL preseason game against the New Jersey Devils last month and then tallied back-to-back, two-goal games in a home-and-home series against the Adirondack Flames earlier this month.
“Laughton has come into training camp with the attitude that he wants to play with the big team,” Phantoms head coach Terry Murray said last weekend after another strong performance from the team’s top-line center.
“That’s the right kind of attitude,” Murray said, adding, “he understands why he’s here in the AHL and that’s to improve his hockey game. He hasn’t let up on the hard work. He hasn’t let up with his good attitude. It’s been all professionalism every day, coming in to do the right things and learn. It’s paying off for him.”
Laughton now has five goals in his first six AHL games this season, tying him for first among rookie goal scorers with Springfield’s Domenic Monardo early on in the 2014-15 season. What’s more impressive is how Laughton’s five goals were scored.
His two goals in the team’s home opener were both power play tallies, both from the side of the net down low and from a bad angle. His first opened the scoring in the first period and his second tied the game in the final minute of the second period, following a great pass from Andrew Gordon through the Flames’ penalty kill unit late in the period.
The following night – Saturday October 18th – he scored a 4-on-3 shorthanded goal on a breakaway in the first period and a 4-on-4 goal with 13.7 seconds left in the second period to tie the game heading into the third. He was dominant on his second goal, bringing the puck to the slot, following his shot to get a rebound in front of the goal and beating a talented Joni Ortio on a great second effort.
That’s a skilled player, Murray said of Laughton, adding “He’s got good hands. He gets himself to good positions. He’s a great prospect. He’s got a nice upside to his game down the road and I think when you see those kind of quick plays from an individual you can expect to see better things from him in the future.”
The four-goal weekend was enough for the AHL to award Laughton the league’s Player of the Week for the week ending October 19th. While he’s still adjusting to the pro-style game, Murray gave some keen analysis into just how Laughton’s play away from the offensive zone is progressing after Friday night’s home-opening win.
“I would say he’s a little bit ahead of the curve,” Murray said. “His defensive instincts aren’t bad, but there is a lot of areas that are coach-able and that is stuff that we were working on from the start of training camp. I see better reads already.”
Laughton’s most recent goal, which came last Saturday in Binghamton, was an overtime game winner with 1:20 left in a 3-on-3 situation. He’s been putting the puck in the net regardless of the situation or number of skaters on the ice.
“He’s such a great player with the puck,” Gordon said of his linemate, Laughton. “He makes room for himself out there. You bump it to him in the middle and he’s skating up ice. He’s figured out the league [AHL] pretty quickly, and his numbers don’t lie. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up losing him. He’s going to be NHL-ready very soon.”
Laughton has been the Phantoms’ first-line center since his arrival in the AHL, and it should come as no surprise that the projected two-way forward is on both of the Phantoms’ top special teams units.
“He’s been a premiere player in junior and he has some NHL experience,” Murray said of Laughton. “(Once he) gets the other side of the game figured out a little bit better, he’s definitely going to be a good player and be in the NHL.”
Laughton put up great offensive numbers in his final season in the OHL as captain of the Oshawa Generals, tallying 40 goals and 47 assists in 54 regular season games in 2013-14. Though he is known more for being a two-way forward, the offensive outburst isn’t all too surprising.
Laughton admits he continues to adjust to playing in the AHL vs. the OHL, saying “It’s a huge difference. Instead of playing against 16 year olds, you’re playing against men. That’s probably the biggest difference – the strength of guys and time with the puck. I’m going to have to continue to adjust and make changes in my game.”
As for what Laughton thinks he needs to do to prove he’s NHL-ready, that too is not overly surprising and mirrored closely to his AHL coach’s analysis.
“I think a 200-foot game,” Laughton said, adding, “Just continuing to improve on that, trying to win draws and trying to do the little things to make myself a better player. It’s still a long ways – my game – but I just have to keep with it. Getting better every day is huge and that’s what I’m focusing on.”
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