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Flyers or Phantoms? Laughton's fate up in the air

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Scott Laughton will be making a big jump next season.

The question is: Where will he land?

Laughton, the Flyers’ first-round draft pick (20th overall) in 2012, won’t be returning to Oshawa, Ontario, where he spent three seasons with the OHL’s Generals.

The 20-year-old forward is headed to either the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms or the Flyers.

And obviously, he’s hoping for the latter.

“That’s what I’m working at and that’s what I’m training towards,” Laughton said. “We’ll see at camp. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

Laughton, who’s taking part in his third development camp with the Flyers this week, has actually already had a taste of the NHL. He played five games with the Flyers early on during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, but was returned to the OHL so as not to burn a year off of his entry-level contract. (Typically, the number of permitted games is nine -- but it was reduced because of the 48-game season.)

Laughton didn’t spend any time with the Flyers last year, but the experience in 2013 has stuck with him.

“I still think about it,” he said. “It was definitely a dream come true, and that’s where I want to be next year. That’s the ultimate goal. There’s no lying about it, that’s where I want to be. I just loved it up there. It’s the best league in the world. Hopefully I can make it a permanent stay.”

Laughton knows there’s a very good chance he’ll spend another year waiting for his NHL shot, however. General manager Ron Hextall has extolled the values of not rushing prospects, and it’s no secret the Flyers are already crowded at center, his natural position. There could be space on the fourth line, but the problem is, Laughton isn't that kind of player. 

“That's a tough call,” coach Craig Berube said. “The thing with a player like that is you don't want to hurt his offense, and he's an offensive player. He's a good two-way player, but there's been guys -– Joe Thornton started on the fourth line in Boston -- that developed into a highly skilled offensive player. I think it just depends on the situation. I keep saying it, but it's what's best for the team at the time. If it's best that he makes the team, and he's deserving of making the team, we'll make that decision.
 
“That's a tough question to answer, if we're hurting his development or not because there's players that have gone on to be players that started on the fourth line, played 10 minutes a night, killed penalties and checked.”

If he heads to the Lehigh Valley, though, and not Philadelphia, Laughton won’t be disappointed. He understands – and shares – Hextall’s long-term view and Berube's team-first approach.

“I got sent back to junior this year, and took it pretty well,” Laughton said. “I tried to play to the best of my ability, and just tried to get better every day. I’m still pretty young, I just turned 20, and I want to play in the league 15 years from now, not play when I’m 20 and be out of the league soon. I’m going to develop the best I can, and hopefully I can make a roster spot. If not, then that happens and I move forward.”

And, according to director of player development Chris Pryor, he might benefit from it, too.

“It will be a better situation playing in Allentown from a development situation,” Pryor said. “It’s not going to hurt any of those guys to go down there and have a big role. They’re still young guys. It’s going to be a little bit different look there.”

No matter where he ends up for 2014-15, Laughton has come a long way since 2012. That's palpable simply by the way he carries himself -- but he’s also played in both the AHL and NHL since then. He captained Canada’s World Junior team last winter. And he tallied an impressive 40 goals (87 points) in 50 games with the Generals last season. 

The difference between Laughton in 2012 and Laughton in 2014, he said, is “huge.”

“My body’s gotten bigger,” he said. “I think I’m way more powerful on my feet. I felt way better this year around the puck in the corners, and things like that -- getting low and being powerful.

“I learned a lot of up there. Time with the puck was huge. I think I took my offensive game to another level, too. Going to World Juniors and things like that, all the experiences I could take.”

But this week at Skate Zone, Laughton has naturally shifted into the role of a veteran -- he's here to get a jump on preparations for the 2014-15 season, sure, but he's also realized he brings a lot more to the six-day camp.

"It’s my third one, so I'm trying to help the younger guys," Laughton said. "It’s nerve-wracking coming in for your first camp. You’re new to the organization. I’m kind of new here too because we’ve got new player development and things like that. It’s all new. Everyone’s got a fresh start."