It was a breakthrough season for Scott Laughton, the left winger-center who, for the most part, showed why the Flyers selected him in the first round of the 2012 draft.
For Laughton, it was a season of starts and stops, a season twice interrupted because of a broken finger and a groin injury, a season that peaked when he was the Flyers' best forward in the round-robin tournament against Boston, Washington, and Tampa Bay.
Laughton, 26, then struggled with turnovers in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against Montreal, and he was benched in Game 2 of the semifinals against the Islanders. He regrouped and was a key contributor the rest of the series, scoring in overtime to win Game 5 and depositing a third-period goal to force overtime in Game 6. Laughton had nine hits and played nearly 30 minutes in Game 6, which the Flyers won in double overtime, 5-4.
In other words, Laughton’s development didn’t rise on a straight line, but he took two steps forward for every step backward. That’s progress.
“It’s taken a little bit for me to feel I’m pretty comfortable at this level and have a role where I’m contributing on a nightly basis,” said Laughton, who began getting more minutes when Scott Gordon was named the interim coach last season. “I think this year AV [Alain Vigneault] and the coaches gave me a role right from the beginning and I tried to stick to it and play to that. That’s definitely the best I’ve felt in my career — just confidence-wise and being able to move pucks and skating.”
Laughton, who plays with speed and is also one of the Flyers’ most physical forwards, finished with a career-high 13 goals, though injuries limited him to 49 games. He had a personal-best plus-13 rating and was used on every line and the penalty kill. He had a team-leading five goals, nine points and a plus-2 rating in 15 postseason games.
“Definitely a good year for me,” he said. “I enjoyed playing hockey and being with this group. I think team success had a lot to do with that. I feel a lot more confident in my game coming into next year.”
After finishing with a 41-21-7 regular-season record, the Flyers defeated Montreal to win their first playoff series since 2012 before losing to the Islanders in seven games.
“Definitely a good year for me. I enjoyed playing hockey and being with this group. I think team success had a lot to do with that.
“I thought our regular season was the best since I’ve been here,” said Laughton, who quietly played an important role in the team’s success. “We were so much better than we’ve been in the past at holding on to leads and coming back in games, and just overall the way we played together. I think right before the pause, we were really coming together and playing our best hockey. We just couldn’t get back to that level in the bubble” in Toronto.
General manager Chuck Fletcher will try to make the Flyers better in the offseason. Help could come from within the organization if forwards Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick return to form. Lindblom missed most of the season because of a rare bone cancer, and Patrick did not play because of a migraine disorder.
“You saw with Oskar in Game 7 he started making some plays. I think he hit a post. He was starting to play the hockey we saw at the start of the year,” Laughton said. “I can’t wait to see him come back next year and how he’s going to be. And with Patty, I’ve been talking to him and I’m just excited to see where these two guys are at whenever they come back.”
Laughton, named the Flyers' most improved player this season in a vote by his teammates, doesn’t think many roster changes are needed. “To have two of those younger guys come back and play significant roles for our team, which they do, would be huge for us,” he said.
Laughton played primarily center in the postseason but was used mostly as a winger in the regular season. He said he has no preference on his position. “Whatever they need me to do,” he said. … Laughton played briefly for former Flyers coach Peter Laviolette in the 2012-13 season. Laviolette was named Washington’s coach Tuesday. “I didn’t know him a whole lot, but just remember how intense he was,” Laughton said. He was “really focused on offensive-zone movement. He’s a veteran coach who knows how to push his team.”