Like most of us, Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren is a creature of habit. Even when his team has other needs, he remained with the one area his club has had the most success drafting and instead went with a solid, defensively sound center man in Oshawa Generals shutdown center Scott Laughton.
The selection came as something of a surprise with the Flyers needs for organizational depth on the blue line and for a talented, top-line winger to play with Claude Giroux. The free fall of the smallish (5' 11", 165) but insanely skilled winger Teuvo Teravainen seemed to have him destined for South Philly, but the Chicago Blackhawks took him two picks ahead of the Flyers spot at number 20.
When Philadelphia's pick rolled around, it seemed like a slam dunk that Holmgren would go with the top defender left on the board in Finn Olli Maatta. The 6' 2", 202-pound London Knight was ranked as the eighth-best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, 10th overall by TSN, 12th by International Scouting Services, and 20th by The Hockey News.
With such successes in the first round at the forward ranks as Justin Williams (2000), Jeff Carter and Mike Richards (2003), Steve Downie (2005), Giroux (2006), James van Riemsdyk (2007), and Sean Couturier (2011), the Flyers opted for the 6' 0", 177-pound Laughton, who was NHL CS's 25th North American skater, TSN's 28th overall, ISS's 23rd, and THN's 42nd.
The center registered 21 goals and 53 points in 64 games for Oshawa last season. The following is the scouting report from former NHL GM and TSN and NHL Network analyst Craig Button:
"Scott is not going to overwhelm you in any one area of the game but he's going to contribute to winning in all areas of the game. He has excellent hockey sense and is capable of playing any situation in the game. He is smart defensively. He is smart offensively. He can adjust to different circumstances and excel. He leaves himself in strong position on the ice so he's always ready to make the appropriate play for the situation. He's a competitor who is tenacious and has an edge to his game and he will assert himself. He's a good skater with strong balance and he has the agility that allows him to move side-to-side and open room for himself which also gives him better options for passing. He has an under rated shot and can beat goaltenders from out because he doesn't telegraph his shot and he's always aware of passing options and that holds goaltenders in the net who have to be aware of the potential for that pass. A very effective, determined player who will do whatever is necessary to help the team win." -- Craig Button, TSN
With the Flyers already stacked up the middle, barring any trades, it looks as if there will be some natural center men playing on the wings. Along with Giroux, Danny Briere, Couturier, Brayden Schenn, and Max Talbot, Laughton would give them six pivots.
Holmgren had this to say about his first-round selection, via NHL.com:
"We really like Scott. I've seen him play a couple of times and he kind of reminds me a little bit of Mike Richards, a little bit of Adam Henrique; he's a good, solid, hard-nosed two-way player." -- Holmgren
Translation -- Philly got another player in the classic mold they covet; that being a guy who will work his butt off and not only break through a brick wall for his teammates, but also rebuild it if that's what the situation suggests in order to help his team win.
The selection of Laughton may have been for purposes of clearing the way to move another center in a future trade.
Philadelphia did complete the first trade of the draft weekend Friday afternoon when they sent backup goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to the Columbus Blue Jackets for three draft choices -- #45 and 117 this year, and a fourth-rounder in 2013.
Rumors swirled this was setting Holmgren up to swing bigger deals, with such names as Anaheim Ducks winger Bobby Ryan, Nashville Predators defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, and Phoenix Coyotes rear guard Keith Yandle as the likely targets. There were even talks that the Flyers were speaking with the Winnipeg Jets, sparking speculation the team could be looking at winger Evander Kane -- who sparked controversy last week with comments which made it appear he wanted out of Manitoba -- or any one of three blue liners in Tobias Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien, or Zach Bogosian.
As the hockey world watched, it was Philly's arch-rival and draft hosts the Pittsburgh Penguins who made the biggest splashes.
After nixing a proposed 10-year deal from the team, center Jordan Staal -- who was in the midst of a wedding day celebration -- was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for forward Brandon Sutter, defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin, and the eighth overall selection in the draft, with which they promptly snapped up blue-chip defender Derrick Pouliot.
To add a little drama, the Pens then took Maatta with their own pick at number 22. You can bet with Holmgren's decision to pass over the defenseman, this will be a draft where many will keep close tabs to see who got the better prospect.
What has to be disturbing to Flyers Nation is Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero's next move of the night -- which came at the conclusion of the draft, and after having been seen in discussions with Nashville GM David Poile -- when he sent Zbynek Michalek back to Phoenix for a defensive prospect and picks.
Having opened up his projected salary cap space up to around the $15 million level, it would seem the Pens are gearing up for something big. Shero is rumored ready to ink Sidney Crosby to a humungous extension, and the GM could be getting his house in order to lure New Jersey Devils pending unrestricted free agent winger Zach Parise to the fold on July 1.
That is a lot of improvement -- with the possibility of much more ahead -- for the Flyers rivals from the western portion of the Commonwealth, as Shero is addressing his team's shortcomings after being knocked out in the first round for a second consecutive post-season.
And that has to be a scary thought for Philly hockey fans.
You have to feel Holmgren has been burning up the phone lines and will continue to do so. Like Shero, he was speaking with both Poile and Coyotes GM Don Maloney. Unfortunately for Holmgren, the situation was much different in terms of what they were being asked for in return.
Having added defensive depth, Shero was basically looking to dump Michalek's $4 million cap hit, and he found a winning taker in a team the defender has played for in the past.
Phoenix is also a club that might have trouble hitting the cap floor, so Michalek's fat contract was a plus.
The rumor yesterday was Holmgren was attempting to acquire the reportedly-disgruntled Ryan along with the sixth overall pick from Anaheim, but the Ducks wanted Schenn in any deal. Schenn was obtained from the Los Angeles Kings in the Richards trade last summer, and the 20-year-old showed a lot of promise after overcoming injuries early in the campaign.
Another name being mentioned as on other club's wishlists is Couturier. The 19-year-old was the Flyers eighth overall selection in last year's draft, and showed the reasons he is often compared to Jordan Staal. His defensive play was well-beyond his years, and his tenacious shutdown work on NHL scoring leader and MVP Evgeni Malkin in the first round of the playoffs was integral in Philadelphia's upset of the consensus Cup favorites.
In any deal you have to give something to get something, and from all accounts Holmgren is willing to offer van Riemsdyk. Having just turned 23 years old last month, the 2007 second overall pick is presently still a big piece of the Flyers future.
He is thought to have been one of the key offerings to Columbus' Scott Howson in Thursday's failed bid to land winger Rick Nash, but with the results of last year's trade that (briefly) sent an unhappy Carter to the Blue Jackets and brought the eighth overall pick (Couturier) and young winger Jakub Voracek to the City of Brotherly Love, Howson needs to hit a grand slam in any dealings with the Flyers. The GM's job has to be in jeopardy, and it's believed he demanded a ridiculous package that included JvR and two others from Couturier, Schenn, and Matt Read, in addition to draft picks.
Holmgren was right to offer less, and Howson declined.
The Flyers will likely experience similar snags if there are any ongoing negotiations with Anaheim, Nashville, and Phoenix.
While he may end up just taking the remainder of his picks on day two of the draft Saturday -- after the Bobrovsky deal Friday, the Flyers currently hold numbers 45, 78, 111, 117, 141, and 201 -- it is likely the GM has something big in the works. It's just a matter of finding the right fit without subtracting too much of the club's future.
If history is any indicator, Philly will add a big piece of the puzzle when things get rolling Saturday. It's the way the Flyers have operated at this time of year for so long, and after all, Holmgren has proven to be quite the creature of habit.