Training Camp 2022 was a new start for the Philadelphia Flyers on the ice, with John Tortorella coming in and applying his ideals and procedures to the team. There was the infamous first day of camp when pucks were not needed, and that hard work carried through the weekend until the team’s first preseason game.
There was another difference though that at the time was a little less glaring. Claude Giroux wasn’t there, having been traded to Florida in the spring. It was the Flyers’ first camp in nearly a decade that didn’t include Giroux as captain, and no replacement had been named. Tortorella didn’t really know many of the players yet, save for perhaps Cam Atkinson, who found himself dealing with an injury just a couple practices into the camp that ended up sidelining him for the season.
So that created a void, and like most walks of life – certainly with a hockey team – other people gradually filled that void. That’s how Scott Laughton found himself as the de-facto leader of the team in those early days of the Tortorella Era, with the new coach pulling the veteran aside in those first few days to discuss various things. By the time the season started, Laughton had become the leader of the captain-less team.
“The intangibles that Scotty brings sometimes outweighs what he does on the ice,” Tortorella said after the team’s first two home games. “He wore an ‘A,’ and I think that’s for a reason. Other people didn’t. It was only one ‘A’ [for two games] and I thought he deserved that. So he brings a lot of that stuff to us.”
That ‘A,’ though, stuck throughout the season. Once the season was over, Laughton was able to reflect on how that relationship developed with Tortorella and the new coaching staff.
“I didn’t really see it coming,” he said. “I wore a little bit of a letter two years ago when a couple guys went down and kind of slid in there. But yeah, I’ve loved playing for Torts. He’s shown me a ton of respect and given me a ton of opportunity and kind of put me in that role so I tried to relish it and try and help out whenever I could. I’ve been through those situations, going down to the minors and coming back up, so I think it just helps when a guy does go down or things like that, to try and help them out a little bit.”
Tortorella has said that he won’t name a captain next year either, but it’s apparent that Laughton will still have a significant leadership role, unofficial as it may be. It’s something that means a lot to him at this point in his career after being part of the Flyers organization for over a decade.
“It’s pretty special to me honestly, just being here for so long and having that role,” he said. “I’ve said it before but I care about the people in this organization, all the staff and everyone like that and I booked some pretty great friendships along the way. So I want to see us do well and I’m all in here to be a part of this. It’s crazy to think that being an older guy now and stuff like that, but I guess it’s the way it is, time flies, and just try and take that role and take it into another step next year of being in that.”
Laughton anticipates having help in that role next year as well when Atkinson and Sean Couturier are back in the lineup – which obviously he thinks will help the team on the ice as well. And while he understands the fans are frustrated by the last two years, he thinks that is a sign of brighter times ahead.
“Fans are obviously upset about how it’s been going and I agree with it,” he said. “You see it and whatever. But you get guys like Coots and Cam back with that young core, and you have guys that can fill in, you’re a better team no matter what. You have two first line players, you have a guy like Coots who plays against top lines. So I think that step that you take is a lot bigger than I think people even realize.”
And from a silver-lining perspective, that young core is perhaps what benefited most from the Flyers not having Atkinson or Couturier available last year. It was yet another case of filling the void, and Laughton watched as Owen Tippett, Morgan Frost, Noah Cates and others took advantage of ice time they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
“Younger guys like Tipper, a guy like Frost, Catesy, come in and plays all those big minutes, that’s valuable,” Laughton said. “You get that confidence early, like early on in my career I never really had that, you know, where you’re trying to find your way and confidence is limited. And then you have those opportunities, and you see all that stuff. And it just helps you so much. They’re not really young, but they’re right there in between like and now it’s their time to push. So I think that’s taken a step.”
Laughton is ready to lead the entire roster to that next step. The changes the Flyers have made to this point in the front office are simply a start, and who knows at this point what the roster will look like when training camp rolls around. But for those who are there, Laughton’s philosophy is simple.
“Just hoping everyone really takes this summer seriously,” he said. “It’s gonna be a big summer for a lot of young guys to take that next step and to become dominant players in this league. So if we get that, and get some consistency, and solid goaltending which we’ve already gotten, I think we can be a better team than a lot of people think.”