By Kirk Luedeke
Scott Laughton is living proof that you can overcome a tough start with a strong finish.
|Scott Laughton finished the year with 53 points in 64 games for the Oshawa Generals. (Getty Images)|
The Oshawa Generals center scored just three goals in his first 25 games, dropping off from consideration as a solid first-round candidate for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh June 22. After some internal juggling in November got the club jump started in the right direction, Laughton’s production took off. Laughton finished the year with 18 markers in his last 39 contests, but his real impact was not felt until he suited up for Team Canada at the World Under-18 Championship in Brno, Czech Republic last April.
“I was gripping the stick tight and things weren’t going my way,” Laughton told New England Hockey Journal. “As the season went on, we had a coaching change and I got a fresh start. I was getting power play minutes and then got a tremendous boost getting to skate on a line with (Christian) Thomas and (Andy) Andreoff. That really got things going in the right direction, because both are great players with a lot of skill and experience in our league."
Laughton’s Generals squad felt the disappointment of being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, but as the old adage goes: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. The Oakville, Ontario native did exactly that, establishing himself as Canada’s top forward at the tournament, grabbing the attention of scouts and observers with his energy and clutch play.
“The Under 18s was the finishing touch,” Laughton told New England Hockey Journal when asked to characterize his feelings heading into the draft. “It isn’t a secret that I had a bit of a rough start, but as my team came together I was able to have more success offensively. By the time I had the opportunity to play for Team Canada, I felt pretty good about my game and was able to capitalize on being surrounded with some great players.”
Although average-sized, Laughton is a fast skater who plays with a physical edge. Skilled and possessing a non-stop motor, he is more than the sum of his parts even if the 21 goals and 53 points this season was a cut below what was expected of him coming into the 2011-12 campaign.
Roger Hunt is an assistant coach for Oshawa and is also the team’s director of player development. He has seen Laughton transform into a legitimate two-way star in the OHL after being a 55-goal scorer for the Toronto Marlies as a minor midget two years ago. The skill/potential saw the Generals take Laughton third overall in the 2010 OHL Priority Selection, and the 6-foot, 177-pounder is beginning to justify that after modest production in his first two OHL campaigns.
“His upside is enormous,” Hunt said recently. “I see him as being ahead of the curve in terms of being a guy who has skill, but plays with an edge. He gets his shot through on net, and will also go to the net for tips. He’s a tireless worker who loves to practice and comes to play every night. Those attributes are what set Scotty apart from many of his peers.”
Although some may not agree with Hunt’s characterization of Laughton’s offensive potential at the highest level, no one we spoke to for the piece would deny his grit and character.
“I wonder about the upside,” said an Ontario-based NHL scout with a Western Conference team. “He’s a tremendous kid who plays a real good two-way game, but do you take a guy who might just be a third-liner in the NHL in the late teens or early 20’s? I don’t know.
“I’ll tell you this, though—I respect how hard he worked on a team that had some veteran players who simply didn’t achieve what they were capable of. He never quit and did his very best. That counts for a lot in my book.”
Oshawa is an organization in transition. Former GM and head coach Chris DiPiero moved out from the bench in November after a sluggish start, bringing in Gary Agnew to assume the coaching duties. Oshawa’s 31-30-4-3 record was only good enough to get into the eighth spot of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Although they put up a fight, the Generals were dispatched by the eventual conference champion Niagara Ice Dogs in six games.
DiPiero, Agnew and assistant coach Joe Cirella were not brought back, with the team hiring former Peterborough Petes GM Jeff Twohey to help get Oshawa back to the top of the OHL and beyond. In order to get there, Twohey and the yet-to-be-hired head coach will depend on Laughton’s skill and character as he continues to mature as a player and person.
“The biggest disappointment was definitely losing in the playoffs,” Laughton said. “We were projected to go deep and make a run at the Memorial Cup, so it was disappointing to fall so short with the group of guys we have.”
Laughton also drew confidence and inspiration from the team, which was important to the way he turned things around.
“The way we were able to come together as a group helped a lot,” he said. “Playing in the CHL Top Prospects Game was also important to getting my confidence up. Getting the chance to skate with all those great players and prove that I could do it was a real boost and I think everything just kind of built up from there.”
Although Canada came up short at the Under-18 competition with Team USA capturing a fourth straight gold in that annual spring event, Laughton relished the chance to grow from the challenge and global exposure.
“On the international stage, everything is so much more intense,” said Laughton. “Every game means something, so it was huge for us coming together as a group from the CHL. The players have to become a group pretty quick and in every game, you need a must-win mindset.”
After going up against the Americans twice in the tourney, Laughton came away with an appreciation for the value of that team’s system and the benefits being together for two years at the U.S. NTDP in Ann Arbor has on chemistry.
“We played them two times and weren’t able to beat them,” he said. “They were intense games, and as a player that’s what you want. I saw them at the Under-17 (Challenge) when they were first getting together, so it was pretty cool at the Under-18s to see how far they’ve come. It was tough coming up short, but they earned that gold medal with a fantastic tournament.”
Growing up in Toronto, Laughton was a fan of the Maple Leafs, even though his dad is a staunch supporter of the rival Boston Bruins.
“He tried to get me to follow the Bruins,” Laughton said with a laugh. “I was always a fan of the team I was only seven miles from, but it was pretty cool to see Boston win the Stanley Cup last year and how happy my dad was.”
When asked, Hunt (who is also a Leafs supporter) saw value in projecting Laughton as a potential first-round draft pick by Boston.
“For me, Scott would be a real good Boston Bruin,” said Hunt. “He doesn’t mind getting his nose dirty. He’s going to be a real player; he has the maturity as a person, above average skill and brings that hard-nosed style of play that I think would make him a great fit in Boston, where the fans value that kind of competitor.”
Like every kid who grows up a hockey fan, but has a shot at being an NHL player, Laughton’s allegiance and that of his family will change in an instant on draft day.
“I’m definitely thinking about it,” he said of the draft and upcoming combine experience. “It’s something you dream about growing up, so to have the chance to be drafted by an NHL team is obviously something special.”
If just one team is convinced as the Oshawa Generals are that Laughton is a special player, then his wait at Consol Energy Center will not be a long one.