As the Flyers approached the halfway mark of Thursday night’s game against the Washington Capitals down by a goal, defenseman Dmitry Orlov shoved captain Claude Giroux from behind into the end boards. Giroux tumbled to the ice, hoisted himself up slowly, and gingerly skated to the bench as the Wells Fargo Center crowd cried for a penalty.
The referee never blew the whistle, but that kind of behavior from Orlov didn’t fly with center Scott Laughton.
Laughton hopped off the bench to replace Giroux and made a beeline for Orlov, cross-checking him sharply in front of the net. Later during that same shift, Laughton showed he wasn’t satisfied with the Capitals’ lack of punishment from the officials. As defenseman Michal Kempny sought to settle a puck in the corner behind the Capitals’ net, Laughton flew after Kempny and delivered a heavy hit on him.
Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk wasn’t pleased with Laughton, and the two dropped the gloves to the tune of stick taps along the boards from both benches. (Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk, Trevor’s brother, got a kick out of the altercation. “I was laughing about that once it happened,” van Riemsdyk he said. “I looked over at who was involved. My best friend on my team and my brother.”)
While fighting and enforcing aren’t necessarily hallmarks of Laughton’s game, his stepping up for his teammates has been a constant for the Flyers all season. With centers and alternate captains Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes out because of injury, Laughton earned the opportunity to wear the A on his jersey. He has worn it well over the past few weeks by displaying leadership on the ice and on the bench.
“He’s definitely someone I’ve respected the way that he goes about his business and tries to prepare himself to be a good player in how much he cares and how much he wants to be a good player,” van Riemsdyk said. “So I think he’s always kind of had that since I’ve been here. So it’s funny, now, obviously now he’s getting the recognition, getting the chance to wear a letter, which is a big deal.”
Since he entered the league during the 2012-13 season, Laughton has bounced around the lineup, spending time primarily on the third and fourth lines. Last season, Laughton was elevated to the second line at left wing and stood out with his consistent play. In 21 games last season, roughly half of the schedule abbreviated by COVID-19, Laughton had 15 points and a team-high plus-9 rating.
Right before the trade deadline last season, Laughton signed a five-year, $3 million average annual value contract extension with the Flyers. He started the season at third-line center, but a barrage of injuries up the middle to Couturier, Hayes, Patrick Brown, Derick Brassard, and Nate Thompson forced Laughton to slide up to the second line. Now, in his last 13 games, Laughton registered four goals and eight assists, most recently alongside van Riemsdyk and Travis Konecny.
Increased responsibility at five-on-five, on the second power-play unit, and on the penalty kill comes with increased ice time. This season, Laughton has averaged a career-high 16 minutes, 25 seconds of ice time through 46 games played. Dating back to Dec. 8, when he moved up to the second line for the first time this year, Laughton has averaged 17:11 of ice time.
Additionally, Laughton is having the second most productive season of his career in the midst of a disastrous year for the 15-25-9 Flyers. This season, Laughton is averaging .50 points per game (23 points total), which is second behind his 2019-20 season, when he averaged .55 points per game (27 points in 49 games played).
“He’s a guy that’s doing things the right way shift after shift,” interim head coach Mike Yeo said. “He’s doing things the right way in the D-zone, and by doing that, it’s what we’re talking about, it allows you to get to your game. It allows him to generate that speed and get on the attack and create offense.”
Laughton put together one of his best performances of the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, finishing the game with a goal, an assist, and a season-high plus-3 rating. Yeo singled out Laughton’s actions on defenseman Justin Braun’s late-second-period goal as a positive. Had Laughton never crashed the net with speed with the puck on his stick and taken the initial shot, Braun wouldn’t have had the chance to put the shot on net later in the sequence.
Yeo pointed to Laughton’s speed for a second time on his rebound goal against the Detroit Red Wings last Saturday. Off the rush, Konecny fired a wrist shot on goal from above the right face-off circle. The puck squirted past goalie Thomas Greiss and hit the post. Laughton drove to the net, knocking in the rebound to cut the Flyers’ deficit to one goal.
This season, Laughton has blended physicality and fearlessness into his productive play. He’s third on the team in hits with 100, trailing fourth-line winger Zack MacEwen by one and hard-nosed defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen by 46. He’s tied for sixth on the team with 34 blocked shots. A fixture on the Flyers’ penalty kill, Laughton has displayed a keen sense of when to jump on a scoring opportunity and ranks second on the team with two shorthanded goals.
Whether he’s being vocal on the bench of giving his best effort on the ice, especially when the Flyers are at their lowest, Laughton is showing he’s cut out to be a leader.
“Always try and be vocal and bring energy,” Laughton said of his leadership style. “I think that’s all you can really do is bring energy every night and try and play the same way and be consistent.”