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Learning from Adversity, Leading by Example

Meltzer looks at how Scott Laughton's consistency is the strength of his game

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer

If someone walked into Flyers training camp or watched a preseason game for the first time and was unfamiliar with the players, he or she could easily mistake Scott Laughton for a guy who was trying to win a roster spot rather than being a now-established 25-year-old veteran of 272 NHL games getting ready for regular season.

Day after day in camp, whether in practice or in games, Laughton has brought consistent energy and a tireless work ethic. While that is nothing new for the player, it is something that has quickly made a positive impression on his new coach, Alain Vigneault.

"Scotty Laughton has been one of our hardest working players," Vigneault said last week. "When you have players like him -- or like Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux -- who lead by example every day and they earn the ice time they get -- take nothing for granted -- it's something that the young guys pick up on."

Laughton's character and work ethic were a large part of the reason why the Flyers drafted him somewhat ahead of pundit consensus with the 20th overall pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. However, it was his subsequent career experiences that molded his mindset into what it is today.

"My story is a little different than everyone's. I was kind of back and forth and didn't know [when I'd make it]; kind of the uncertainty of it," Laughton recalls.

Laughton was still just 18 years when he dressed in five NHL games for the Flyers when the 2012-13 season began following the cancelation of the first half the season due a lockout. He gave his all, but was clearly not yet NHL-ready, and was soon returned to his junior team, the OHL's Oshawa Generals. 

Laughton would not make his next appearance on the Flyers until two years later, splitting the 2014-15 season between the AHL level with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (14 goals, 27 points in 39 games) and the Flyers (31 games, two goals, six points). 

The next year, Laughton stuck with the Flyers for the full season, dressing in 71 games and chipping in seven goals and 21 points. He moved around the lineup, predominantly playing center but also seeing significant time at wing. Laughton remembers the heady feeling of believing that he'd made it to the NHL to stay.

"When I got a call to find a place to live in, that's when you've officially made it, once you get that little slip of paper. You can kind of settle in," Laughton recalls.

As it turned out, Laughton hadn't really made it; not yet, at least. Up to that point, Laughton's career path -- save for the brief NHL stint as an 18-year-old -- was pretty typical for many young players. The crossroads came in 2016-17. 

In the opinions of then-general manager Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol, Laughton had not yet found his identity as a pro player. There were inconsistencies in his game and a need to make the mental leap to embrace a role as a bottom-six forward rather than as the more offensive-minded player he'd become on the latter part of his junior hockey career and first season in the AHL. 

Laughton was sent back to the American Hockey League, and spent 60 games with the Phantoms. This time around, rather than seeing regular power play duty and frequent deployment in offensive zone starts, Laughton's usage was much closer to what it has been in the NHL the last two seasons. 

As any player would be, Laughton was stung at first by being back in the minors. However, rather than being defeated by the setback, he embraced the challenge. 

"You have to be honest with yourself as a hockey player," Laughton said. "In the long term, I think I benefited from that year in the minors. I think it made me a better player. What I found is that it takes time -- or at least it took me time -- to discover your identity and to build the confidence that it takes to show you can compete effectively at this level. It didn't happen overnight for me."

For Laughton, 2016-17 was the year when he truly found what would and would not work for him in his quest to become a proven pro. He found ways to regularly contribute as a defensively-aware bottom six forward and penalty killer as well as a tenacious forechecker. There were periodic outbursts of offense as well, but there were other things that had become his primary assets at the pro level. The versatility he had to occasionally play wing as well as center also boosted his stock.

Over the last two seasons, Laughton has been a fixture in the Flyers' lineup. He dressed in 163 of 164 possible games. Instead of playing an average 10:15 a night, as he did his rookie NHL season, he worked his way up to playing nearly 15 minutes on an average night by 2018-19. 

Last season, Laughton even posted a dozen goals and 32 points -- a respectable total for a bottom-six player who does not appear on the power play and who sees a lot of hard minutes (69.2 percent of his even-strength shifts started in the defensive zone).

This summer, the Flyers rewarded Laughton with a two-year contract extension at a $2.3 million average annual value. He reported to camp in excellent physical condition and has been one the most consistently noticeable players throughout September in terms of his competitiveness level and attention to detail. 

Laughton is now well-established enough as an NHLer to where he'd have a spot in Vigneault's lineup even with a so-so camp. However, given the road he's traveled in his career, he's not about take anything for granted. 

"No matter what profession you are in, you've got to work hard as you can and try to get better every day. That's why I try to do. I'm still fighting for a spot. There's a lot of young kids coming in. There's a lot veteran guys who are in on tryouts and [two-way contracts]. who are trying to make the team. I'm trying to move up in the lineup and get those minutes. I've got to show what I can do to this new coaching staff -- they're all new -- to help this team and be a consistent player," Laughton said. 

Famed author BJ Neblett wrote, "We are the sum total of our experiences. Those experiences -- be they positive or negative -- make us the person we are, at any given point of our lives." Within the context of hockey, Scott Laughton is the embodiment of that quote. His setbacks and triumphs in building an NHL career have taught him to use every day as an opportunity both to prove and to improve himself. 

PRACTICE VIDEO:

* Hear from Joel Farabee, Carsen Twarynski & Tyler Pitlick following Day 13 of Training Camp:Video: Hear from the players following practice

* Head Coach Alain Vigneault talks about the battles at camp, who's still in the running for roster spots and finalizing the roster before heading to Europe:Video: Flyers coach talks lineups and roster spots

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