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Trio of Flyers prospects patiently waiting their turn

by Adam Kimelman

Scott Laughton experienced the thrill of making an NHL opening-night roster twice. Shayne Gostisbehere got his first taste of professional hockey last season, as did Robert Hagg, who made his North American pro debut in 2013-14.

All the experiences did was make three key members of the future of the Philadelphia Flyers hungry for more.

"Every day I think about it," Laughton said. "Just try to work toward it."

Laughton, the Flyers' first-round pick (No. 20) in the 2012 NHL Draft, could be the closest of the three to making the team. He already has NHL experience, playing five games with Philadelphia at the start of the 2012-13 season.

"That was huge," he said. "To get a taste of five games, especially in the lockout year, when the fans were so crazy. I know Philly's fans are so passionate. It was awesome."

Laughton was on the roster to start last season but was returned to the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League without playing a game. He excelled there with 40 goals and 87 points in 54 games. He also was Canada's captain at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden.

"It [WJC] was like the NHL experience," Laughton said. "You're playing against the best guys in the world, and to be able to be captain and have a leadership role like that I thought I took it pretty well. It was a lot of fun to be able to go over there."

That leadership role carried over to the Flyers' prospect development camp earlier in July.

"He sets the standard in our camp dressing room," said John Riley, who works in player development for the team. "He is a leader. He's always been a leader on different teams he played on. Guys looked to him. Not just because he's Scott Laughton but because of the way he carries himself. There's an ease in him. He's an affable kid. He's a really pleasant kid to be around, he's polite, he's respectful. When you talk about building a culture he's certainly a role model in that respect."

Nice words won't get Laughton on the team, however. A natural center, he's behind veterans Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Vincent Lecavalier on the NHL depth chart. Rather than "drive myself crazy" poring over Philadelphia's roster, Laughton is instead working to raise his overall game.

"I think I'm really close," he said. "I just need to work on getting stronger and faster like everyone says … being able to win faceoffs, being able to be key in the offensive zone and being able to play fast.

"I put my head down and go to work every day and try to work as hard as I can."

Riley has been impressed by what he's seen.

"The biggest thing that we've stressed [at prospect camp], we're not evaluating, we're breaking them down and working on the fundamentals of the game," Riley said. "With that said, he's certainly a pro. He comes here, it's his third [prospect camp], but he's eager to learn. He's trying new things. He's accepted everything that's been asked of him and he's doing what he needs to do to put himself in a position to make the club."

Hagg, a 2013 second-round pick (No. 41), could be just as close as Laughton. He showed a smooth transition to North American hockey in a 10-game stint in the American Hockey League after playing with Modo in the Swedish Hockey League. So far, he's enjoyed the speed and physicality of the North American game.

"It's going a lot quicker over here, and it's a lot more physical so you have to be prepared every time you hit the ice," he said. "That's the biggest part, it's going much faster. Every time you touch the puck you have to know what you're going to do with it."

Hagg's teammate for his final two AHL games was Gostisbehere, a 2012 third-round pick (No. 78). The offensive-minded defenseman arrived after a stellar college career at Union College that he capped with one goal, two assists and a plus-7 rating against top-seeded University of Minnesota in the championship game at the Frozen Four, which was played at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Gostisbehere scored five points in two games at the Frozen Four, leading Union to its first NCAA hockey championship and earning himself the Most Outstanding Player award.

"It was a great experience just being a pro for those two games," Gostisbehere said of his time in the AHL. "It was great to adapt to the speed and see the transition from college to pro. It was a great learning experience."

Part of that learning has been focusing on his defensive side of his game. As much as his offense stands out, Gostisbehere is just as proud of the blocked shot that led to a goal in the NCAA title game. Working with Kjell Samuelsson, a longtime NHL player who now works in Philadelphia's department of player development, has helped refine that all-around game.

"He takes himself out of trouble with the way he skates," Samuelsson said. "We want him to use that quickness to close gaps in defensive situations. He almost surprises players. He did that in college in [defensive] zone coverage. He would be so quick to close the gap he would surprise guys."

The Flyers already have seven NHL defensemen on their roster, but with the team needing to trim salary Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann and Luke Schenn could be candidates for trades that would open roster spots.

However, the team is preaching patience with its younger players, and those players have gotten the message.

Gostisbehere could have been speaking for Laughton and Hagg when asked about potential NHL opportunities this season.

"I don't want to get too ahead of myself," he said. "I'm taking it step by step. Just trying to be the best player I can possibly be and develop aspects of my game I need to work on. … If it's the AHL or the NHL, for me either/or is going to be perfect because I'll give it my all no matter where I am."


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