Boone Jenner, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Philadelphia Flyers, Richard Panik, Scott Laughton

Laughton an Interesting Problem for Flyers

Since being drafted 20th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, Scott Laughton has been a difficult player to project. Early comparisons were made to former Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards, a physical, two-way center with decent skating ability. Those descriptors fit Laughton’s game but his role on the current playoff-bound Flyers team is that of the ultimate depth forward, in as good of a way as possible.

Development

The curse of first-round picks is always the expectation to perform right away under the bright lights. Laughton was no exception. After scoring 87 points in 54 games during his final campaign in the OHL, he split the 2014-15 season between the Flyers and their AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He posted a modest 6 points in his 31 games with the Flyers, but performed well with the Phantoms, scoring 27 points in 39 games.

Scott Laughton (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

His production in the AHL earned him a full-time spot on the Flyers’ roster the following season when he suited up for 71 games. He contributed 21 points that season, but many were underwhelmed with the showing, with management seemingly among them. Laughton spent almost the entire 2016-17 season back with the Phantoms, only appearing in two NHL games. The team had not given up on him, but it is rarely a good sign when a high draft pick spends an entire season in the AHL, despite having already appeared in over 100 NHL games. This stint in the AHL led many fans to write Laughton off as a contributor at the NHL level.

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Laughton was signed to a two-year, $1.925 million contract extension prior to the 2017-18 season and returned to the NHL for good after his second strong showing with the Phantoms. He recorded 20 points in 81 games, playing primarily on the Flyers’ fourth line. This triggered yet another shift in perception — he was now viewed as a career bottom-six player, despite being only 23 years old. His strong work ethic and versatility earned him the trust of then-coach Dave Hakstol heading into the 2018-19 season. 

Phantoms Center Scott Laughton (21) steals the puck from Flames Forward Garnet Hathaway (9) at the PPL Center in Allentown. [photo: Chris Knight]

In what turned out to be a nightmarish campaign for the Flyers, Laughton put up a career year in 2018-19, scoring 12 goals to go along with 20 assists. His ability to play up and down the lineup made it easy to find a spot for him on a nightly basis and he was finally making good on some of his offensive upside. New general manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher saw what the team had in Laughton and signed him to another two-year deal, this time to the tune of $4.6 million.

Current Role & Next Contract

This season, Laughton has continued to deliver. He currently sits at 27 points in 49 games, despite sitting out four weeks earlier this year with a broken finger. Lately, he has found himself on a line with big-money center Kevin Hayes and the team’s leading scorer Travis Konecny, and Laughton hasn’t been a passive passenger. 

Since the start of February, Laughton has put up six goals and nine assists in 18 games. The young forward has gone from afterthought to top-six contributor right before our eyes. With his emergence and age, he is clearly a player the Flyers wish to hang onto. This could prove to be easier said than done.

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Fletcher apparently reaffirmed Laughton’s importance to the club during this year’s trade deadline. Laughton was highly pursued prior to the deadline, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, with one executive going so far as to say, “Chuck (Fletcher) couldn’t hang up fast enough.” Interest in him from around the league is warranted. For teams looking for depth scoring at a bargain, it doesn’t get much better. With the Flyers’ collective eyes on the Cup, it’s obvious that Fletcher views Laughton as part of a winning formula.

Laughton has become the player that the Flyers hoped he would be. His recent emergence, and the fact he is only under contract through next season, begs the question of what Laughton’s next contract will look like. With over half of the current roster due for new contracts sometime during the next two offseasons, the cap casualties could very well be severe. The trouble with building a top-notch farm system is that eventually, you find yourself forced to part with players you want to keep. With that in mind, here are a few comparable players for Laughton’s next negotiation.

Comparables

Jean-Gabriel Pageau

Pageau, a 27-year-old forward capable of playing on almost any line, in the midst of a career year and due for a new contract, saw himself get traded from the Ottawa Senators to the New York Islanders for a first and a second-round pick in the upcoming draft, as well as a third-round pick in 2021. His was shortly thereafter signed to a six-year, $30 million extension with the Islanders. 

Jean-Gabriel Pageau New York Islanders
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, New York Islanders (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

Pageau’s career-high in points (likely to be surpassed this season) is 43, and he is enjoying a career-high in goals this season with 24. Laughton has not reached these peaks in his career as far as scoring is concerned, but the Corsi percentage for both players are nearly identical, and Laughton has been red hot lately, with Pageau scoring two goals for his only points in seven games for the Islanders. Pageau is likely the better player up to this point in their respective careers, but Laughton is certainly trending up.

Boone Jenner

Boone Jenner is another player that compares well to Laughton. Both have scored at similar rates over the last two seasons and play similar roles for their teams. Depth forwards capable of playing wing or center, Laughton and Jenner have carved out niches on their respective teams. The only thing that separates the two 26-year-olds is consistency.

Boone Jenner Columbus Blue Jackets
Boone Jenner, Columbus Blue Jackets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Jenner has had more sustained success, accumulating 223 points in 489 career games, compared to Laughton’s 106 points in 321 career games. Over the last two seasons, Laughton has put up 59 points in 131 games, with Jenner posting 62 in 147 games. Regardless, the NHL as a whole does have a recency bias, and Laughton is now looking like an undervalued gem. Jenner signed a four-year, $15 million contract prior to the 2017-18 season, an annual average of $3.75 million. This would be a reasonable place to start for Laughton’s agent during his next negotiation.

Richard Panik

Another depth forward on a contending team, the Washington Capitals’ Richard Panik provides his club with many of the same elements as Laughton. A bit of a journeyman playing for five teams in his seven-year NHL career, Panik has been a useful contributor at almost every stop, good for between 30-40 points per season.

Richard Panik Washington Capitals
Richard Panik, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This is a realistic role for Laughton, as well as one he is serving now. Panik signed his current deal this past offseason, a four-year pact worth $2.75 million annually. With Laughton being three years Panik’s junior, he will likely have more leverage in contract discussions, which would drive that figure up.

Time Will Tell

There is no question that the Flyers have been rewarded for their faith in Laughton. They have seen his potential and he has made the most of every opportunity thrown his way. That being said, he will be facing one of his last chances to sign a lucrative contract, as they are rarely offered to players older than 30. It will be a daunting task to keep him in the orange and black but with the salary cap expected to rise and another expansion draft looming, much can change between now and then. All the same, recent indications are that Laughton is an integral piece for a team on the cusp of Stanley Cup contention.

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