Scott Laughton is everything you want in a hockey player — with one notable exception. He digs pucks out of scrums habitually, forechecks as ferociously as a tryout player might, makes and takes crisp passes, kills penalties, wins faceoffs (most of the time), and shuts down superstars (most of the time).
Now if he could only find the back of the net more frequently than a blind squirrel finds a nut, he would be an All-Star candidate, a recurring Selke Trophy candidate.
The way Sean Couturier has become over the last two seasons.
``I hope I can follow the same path,’’ Laughton, 24, said Tuesday after the morning skate. ``He’s so good away from the puck. You watch from the bench and see what he does. I look at him and look at what he does and try to take a little bit from his game and try and follow his path.’’
Those paths are not identical, but there are similarities. An offensive talent in juniors, Couturier was a check-first defensive specialist with the Flyers until he petitioned for a bigger role toward the end of the 2016-17 season and over that summer. He busted out with a 76-point season in 2017-18, doubling the productivity of any of his previous seven seasons with the Flyers.
``The opportunity obviously helps,’’ said Couturier, whose two assists in the 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday gave him 56 points this season. ``Playing with the top six players, you get more time, more power-play time, more chances. The numbers come a little easier than when you’re in a bottom-six role. You get less chances in that role. It can get frustrating at times. It’s almost like you feel like you disappear.’’
Laughton had an acute case of that at the start of the season, when his minutes dipped below 10 in some games and rarely pushed past 15 in most. That changed when Scott Gordon, who had coached him through a trying 2016-17 season with the Phantoms, became the head coach and increased both his role and minutes.
Laughton rewarded that confidence by triggering linemates, particularly Nolan Patrick and Wayne Simmonds. The third-line trio broke out in a 7-4 victory over Minnesota on Jan. 14, and has figured in the scoring in eight of the 15 games since.
Laughton also has been a big part of the Flyers’ resurgent penalty kill.
``I’ve thought Laughts has been great the whole year,’’ Simmonds said. ``Since Game 1. Look at the way he has played. He’s gained the trust of the coaches. Not only is he one of our top three or four PKers, he’s out at the end of periods, end of games. His responsibility is growing. As a player, when you feel like you’ve gained the trust of the coaches, your confidence grows sky-high. And you start doing different things out there.’’
Like, maybe scoring yourself. While Laughton has been a key figure in Patrick’s finding his offense, there was little trickle-down, at least until Saturday. That’s when Laughton broke a 26-game goalless streak in the Flyers’ 6-5 overtime victory against Detroit.
It was a pretty goal. Laughton took a perfect feed from Simmonds and roofed the puck near where the post meets the crossbar. It suggested he still has some unrealized potential, as Couturier did.
Couturier is 26. When he was 24, he scored 14 goals, a career high at the time. Laughton, who scored his eighth goal Saturday, has already eclipsed his NHL career high for points with 22.
Again, the paths are not identical. Although Laughton was a first-round pick in 2012, his reputation was, until his final season in juniors, as a checker. But he scored 87 points in that final season with Oshawa and 11 more in the playoffs, playing the point on the power play, playing top-six minutes.
``Went to World Juniors, too,’’ he said. ``I know it was a different level and a long time ago, but I try to look at that and say I did it once … ‘’
``I really do believe I can move up and down the lineup and create things. I believe in my game enough to move up and play with the top two lines. But I’m comfortable with any role they put me in.’’