PHILADELPHIA – There have been times this week when Scott Laughton had that look of a kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
His first day of camp he admits to being a bundle of nerves, never mind that when he skated onto the ice, he was greeted by 4,000 Flyers fans jammed into a practice rink.
Then came Thursday night, when Laughton took to the ice at the Wells Fargo Center for the first time, with 15,202 fans cheering him on… at a practice.
It’s all been a bit overwhelming for the 18-year-old – except when it comes to the actual playing hockey.
Then, the deer in him, gets out of the headlights. He becomes a focused and driven hockey player with a talent that belies his age.
"I think he's a mature kid & I think he knows what to do,” said Sean Couturier, who was Laughton in Flyers training camp 16 months ago. “He seems to understand the defensive side of the game.”
And really, that’s what is most impressive about him at such a young age. Sure first round draft picks who play center usually have a ton of skill, but where the Flyers have been successful in the first round is finding forwards who can play a two-way game at a young age, allowing their development to take place in the NHL.
Looking back, every first round forward the Flyers have drafted since 1996 is not only still in the NHL but has had good careers or are molding good careers.
The list is impressive. It has five Stanley Cups, 12 Finals appearances and one player who went as far as the conference finals.
Starting with Dainius Zubrus in 1996 the first round picks that were forwards included Simon Gagne (1998), Justin Williams (2000), Jeff Carter (2003), Mike Richards (2003), Steve Downie (2005), Claude Giroux (2006), James van Riemsdyk (2007), Couturier (2011) and now Laughton (2012).
If Laughton makes the roster, he’ll be the sixth of those 10 forwards to play in the NHL in the season immediately following being drafted.
So it’s safe to say, when it comes to top tier forwards, the Flyers know how to pick them.
“He’s a kid that can skate well and make plays and he’s a smart player,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “He’s had a good camp.”
And it’s looking like he’ll still be on the roster when the deadline hits at 3 p.m. Friday.
With Danny Briere unlikely to be cleared to play (wrist), Laughton seems to have a leg up over the other forwards battling for roster spots.
For the second straight practice, Laviolette had Laughton centering a third line with wingers Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds, a spot that likely will belong to Briere when he returns.
“I think [I belong here],” Laughton said. “I’ve been trying to step up my game in junior hockey this year and step up to the next level. I just want to do whatever I can to make this team.”
And he probably has, much in the way Couturier did a season ago. Laughton has been lauded as a responsible, two-way forward who is gritty and whose style of game is a perfect fit for Philadelphia.
“I think he looks great,” said Scott Hartnell, who has played the role of big brother for Laughton, letting the prospect live with him during camp and until he can find a more permanent home. “He’s a great skater and he’s real shifty around the net. I think the best is yet to come when he plays a game.
“He’s got great hockey sense and he’s strong on his skates and wins battles on sticks and pucks… I can’t wait to see him in his first game. It reminds me of when I was 18 too, you don’t quite know what’s going in. It’s a whirlwind and you can’t believe you’re here. I just told him to enjoy it and work hard every day.”
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