Few experts had Laughton on their radar as someone who could make a dent in the NHL so soon. He was not even among the 40 junior players invited to Team Canada's selection camp for the World Junior Championships last month.
"I was pretty surprised to get the call to come to Philadelphia, since it's a shortened season and all, but you never really know," Laughton told the Daily News from Oshawa, Ontario, on Thursday. "I'm excited to get the opportunity to come down and show what I can do."
Laughton's visit to Philadelphia isn't for a tour of the facilities or a boost to his confidence. According to a source, the Flyers would have no hesitation in keeping Laughton on the roster for the beginning of the season should he make a strong showing in practice.
Like the rest of the Flyers, Laughton won't have the benefit of exhibition contests to get his feet wet. He could be thrown right into the frying pan against Pittsburgh on Jan. 19 at the Wells Fargo Center in a nationally televised grudge match.
With the shortened season, junior-aged players will be allowed to skate in five games before teams must make a decision to keep them or send them back to their junior clubs, according to reports. A sixth game played will burn the first year of Laughton's entry-level contract, which would ultimately make him a free agent faster.
Laughton signed his entry-level contract on Aug. 8 for the maximum rookie salary of $925,000. In many ways, his test is no-harm, no-foul. Should Laughton be sent back to Oshawa before six games, his contract will be untouched.
Flyers director of development Ian Laperriere could barely contain his excitement about watching Laughton again. Laperriere already has visited Laughton five or six times this season in Oshawa, where he plays with fellow Flyers pick Colin Suellentrop.
"I don't want to say that he's like Sean Couturier, but they play a lot of the same way," Laperriere said. "He does all of the little things right. Maturitywise, he is a rarity in junior. He's a special kid, a real two-way player.
"He is strong on his feet. He doesn't cheat to get offense. He is very responsible defensively. And he is physical."
Laughton and Laperriere both agreed that he has a "big advantage" and a "huge step up," since he already has been playing this season. He sat out a 10-game suspension early in the season for a hit to the head, but Laughton has 32 points (13 goals) in 31 games.
How realistic are Laughton's chances? The math is simple. Laughton can play both wing and center. Most spots are decided. But Laughton will compete with Eric Wellwood, Tom Sestito, Zac Rinaldo and Tye McGinn for two spots on the roster - assuming veteran Jody Shelley already has a job locked up.
Wellwood played in 11 playoff games for the Flyers last year but was a healthy scratch in the AHL during the lockout, as Phantoms coach Terry Murray said he arrived with a sense of entitlement. Sestito is physical but lacks the hands or intelligence of Laughton. Rinaldo is feisty, but left his team shorthanded more than any other player in the NHL last season. McGinn is a wild card, a forechecking specialist and a big body in front of the net.
The Flyers know what they're getting out of those four other players, but not as much about Laughton. Since center Danny Briere is likely to miss the start of the season with a wrist injury, the extra spot is likely to entice them to learn more.
Laperriere lauded Laughton's physical game, saying if "a game is only physical, he will do it." He has 12 fights on his OHL resume.
"That's not going to change in the NHL," Laughton said. "I pride myself on an all-around game, but I like to play physical at the same time."
If Laughton can fulfill a steady defensive role, provide energy and hold his own with the rough stuff, he possibly could kill two birds with one stone on the roster.
The precedent is already there. Coach Peter Laviolette and general manager Paul Holmgren are not risk averse, especially with young players. Laughton would be the Flyers' second consecutive first-round pick to make the jump directly to the NHL after being drafted, following Couturier. He would also be one of the youngest players in the NHL (born May 30, 1994).
"You can tell that I am a big fan of his," Laperriere said. "He is hard to not like. He's got a real chance. One way or another, he will find a way to play in the NHL."
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