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Laughton earns a roster spot

by Brian Smith | PhiladelphiaFlyers.com / Philadelphia Flyers

There are many big moments in a hockey player’s career, and a lot of them are accompanied by pomp and circumstance – like when he gets drafted, or maybe a press conference after signing a new contract. Even when a player is called to a GM’s office to find out he’s been traded or something along those lines, he knows something is happening.

Then there are moments that are less formal, and that’s what Scott Laughton experienced Monday. He laced up his skates for practice still thinking he was on the bubble to make the Flyers roster, and didn’t notice until about a half-hour into practice that there was one fewer defenseman than there had been. What Laughton didn’t know was that as practice began, general manager Ron Hextall was telling the media that Laughton had made the team.

“I still haven’t heard anything,” Laughton said to a waiting throng of media members after practice. “For me it’s just every day working hard and trying to make the team better.”

It was a similar situation for Sean Couturier, who was an 18-year-old rookie in 2011. He was sitting in the training room one day after practice when then-GM Paul Holmgren told him the organization was going to keep him around rather than send him back to his junior team.

“Homer just walked by and came and chatted with me,” Couturier recalled. “He told me what he thought was best for me was to stick around, even if I wouldn’t play a lot, he thought it was better for me just to practice here and I’d improve more than if I went back to juniors.”

Couturier has taken the same path Laughton has, albeit with less time spent in the minors, which was limited to the first half of the 2012-13 season during the NHL lockout – when he played with Laughton.

“He’s a great player,” Couturier said. “He understands the game pretty well, he plays both sides of the ice, he can take care of defense. Sometimes when you’re young, that’s what you have to learn as a high-end pick. He’s definitely developed and learned a lot these last three years when he’s been up and down, and he’s had a great training camp.”

Laughton will likely be called upon to play against the top lines of the various Flyers opponents. Head coach Dave Hakstol said that won’t be the only role Laughton plays, but it will be part of his job.

“Scotty needs to be very good two ways,” Hakstol said. “He’s got to be hard-nosed and he’s got to be reliable. Some of it is in the abilities of a player to be able to play that role. Certainly Scotty has those abilities in terms of his skating ability, a strong stick and his competitiveness. Along with that, it’s a mentality and some experiences that help you be good in those roles, whether it be on face-offs or in any three zones on the ice during play – I think mentality and experience helps.”

Laughton has developed those things over the past year or so. This won’t be his NHL debut – in addition to five games for which Laughton stuck around the year he was drafted, he also enjoyed a 31-game call-up last season. That gave him the experience, and he said he worked hard in the offseason to develop the other elements.

“A lot of it is comfort level with the guys, and confidence,” he said. “To be able to play with them for half the year last year and be familiar with them, that takes a lot. Just being comfortable with the puck, things like that. I think I worked a lot on my skating a lot this summer, and conditioning. That’s probably what took me to the next level.”

In doing so, Laughton did what he and all young players set out to do – give management a difficult decision to make. That decision came down Monday morning, and Hextall said Laughton deserves his shot.

“Scotty pushed hard, and I give him credit,” Hextall said. “He had to come in here and really make us a better team. Thus far that’s what he’s done. We are a better team with Scott Laughton on our team. Give the kid credit - he pushed the envelope and made this team.”

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