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OSHAWA, Ont. - Scott Laughton has twice come agonizingly close to sticking in the NHL, but both stints with the Philadelphia Flyers ended with a trip back to the Ontario Hockey League.
Despite the bitter disappointment, he has made the most of his opportunities.
The Oshawa Generals forward, who was the 20th overall pick of the Flyers in 2012, has refined his game to the extent where he's arguably the OHL's best two-way centre.
"Obviously it's my own opinion coaching the kid, but I don't know if there's a better 200-foot player in our league. I don't think there is," Generals coach D.J. Smith said of the 19-year-old Oakville, Ont., native. "He wins faceoffs, he finishes checks, he blocks shots, he can score on the power play, he can score big goals, so I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a better player than him."
Laughton, taken third overall by the Generals in the 2010 OHL draft, has been a responsible defensive player from the start, but his offensive numbers were unspectacular playing mostly second fiddle to Boone Jenner in Oshawa.
Things changed in a hurry last season after Laughton had a five-game stint with the Flyers following the NHL lockout. He failed to record a point in the NHL, but seemingly returned to Oshawa a changed player, scoring 17 points in his first seven games back and 23 over the final 17 after just 33 in the first 32 games.
Laughton carried that into the playoffs, out-performing Jenner and leading the Generals with 13 points in seven games, but when he was suspended for a check from behind to Barrie's Zach Hall in the middle of a four-game sweep by the Colts, many figured his OHL career had come to an end.
Although Laughton did make the Flyers out of training camp this season, he didn't dress for the opener against Toronto and then was sent back to the Generals the next day.
"It always weighs in the back of your mind," said Laughton, admitting he was devastated at first. "You want to make the team, like you dreamed growing up, you want to make the NHL, but I still have lots of time. I look at it as a long road ahead and to develop best here and play as many minutes as I do, and in key situations, I think it's going to help when I go up there as a 20-year-old and try to make it next year."
He's certainly getting plenty of opportunities to play and develop with the Generals, who graduated six of their top nine scorers and were expected to be in rebuilding mode this season.
Laughton, at first thought to be potential trade bait, has instead led the team into contention in the wide-open Eastern Conference, where, at 18-5-0-1, they have a surprisingly big lead.
"We're a long way from winning without him," said Smith, who's in his second season as the Generals' coach. "If he just sets out to shut you down, he can certainly do that, but he's got to do that and score goals for us."
Playing in every imaginable situation, including on the point on the power play, Laughton has 17 goals and 35 points in 20 games this season.
Michael Dal Colle, captain Josh Brown and goalie Daniel Altshuller have also been crucial to the success of the Generals, and all were slated to join Laughton for Thursday's Super Series game at home at the General Motors Centre.
Laughton seems the most likely to turn the audition into a spot with Canada at the world junior hockey championships, potentially another silver (or perhaps gold) lining to being sent down by the Flyers.
"On Boxing Day, we used to have a family party and watch that (opening game of the tournament), and to be able to get a chance to make that team is going to be a very, very special experience for me," Laughton said. "Any time you get to put that sweater on, the Canadian crest, words can't really describe it. It gives you chills. At the end of the day I want to be in Sweden at Christmas time representing my country."