VOORHEES, N.J. — Scott Laughton was just happy to play a hockey game.
No, it wasn’t for the Flyers, but that didn’t matter. Laughton’s 2015-16 season ended with him being stretchered off the ice for precautionary reasons following a scary spill into the boards during Game 4 of the Flyers’ first-round playoff series against the Capitals. His 2016-17 started no better when he suffered a knee injury with a week left in preseason to open the year on long term injured reserve.
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So, even as a bubble player losing valuable audition time, playing two games for AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley on a conditioning stint this past weekend meant a great deal to the 22-year-old forward.
Laughton, still on LTIR, was back with the big club on Monday taking part in practice at Flyers Skate Zone (see Flyers Notes). He had just finished playing his first real meaningful, competitive hockey games since April 20, a span of 197 days.
“To be honest, it was just nice to play a game,” Laughton said. “Didn’t matter what league it was, it was just nice to play two games and be able to be a part of the team during a game, so that was nice.
Laughton posted an empty-net goal and assist over the two games.
“I feel good,” he said. “I thought I played OK in the first few games there, felt better definitely the second game, so we’ll see where it takes me.”
Right now, that’s a cloudy picture. When the Flyers are ready to activate their 2012 first-round pick off LTIR, Laughton will either stick and force a roster move or be sent back to the Phantoms. The latter seems most likely given the Flyers don’t have an obvious candidate to be sacrificed for the sake of Laughton, who finished last season — his first full one in the NHL — mostly as a healthy scratch.
To make matters tougher on Laughton, Dave Hakstol admitted practice does only so much in regards to opening the eyes of the coaches. So Laughton’s odds of proving he’s worthy of staying with the Flyers right now without even playing in an NHL game seem slim.
“I try not to do too much in terms of performance evaluation in the types of practices that we’ve had over the last 10 days since he’s been skating,” Hakstol said. “The real evaluation will come once he gets back to game action. Right now, he’s working hard conditioning wise to be ready to go.”
“It’s not really an evaluation right now. It’s an evaluation of conditioning and readiness and that matter.”
Laughton said he has not heard from the team about its plans but is ready to hop into an NHL game if needed.
“Just trying to practice as hard as I can and be ready when I’m called to play,” he said.
The past 6½ months have taught him a lot.
“Big part of the game is mental,” Laughton said. “It’s definitely tough. To end [last] season going off on a stretcher, it’s definitely not fun. And then coming back, getting hurt and being out for 4½ weeks.
“Yeah, it’s definitely tough mentally, but you just push through it and your better for it after.”