Two things happened over the past few weeks … well, actually a bunch has happened to create this logjam at forward such as the selection of Nolan Patrick, the rise of Oskar Lindblom, the re-signing of Jordan Weal and the acquisition of Jori Lehtera via the Brayden Schenn trade.
Nonetheless, two things in particular have created what looks to be the battle to watch come training camp: the decision by Ron Hextall to include Scott Laughton on the protection list for the expansion draft and the re-signing of Mike Vecchione. Both moves show the team’s faith in the two youngsters. The problem, though, is right now, they may be fighting for one spot.
“That’s going to have to play out,” Hextall said on his conference call on Sunday, later adding that, “I can’t predict what’s going to happen here.”
Based off of the general manager’s comments, it appears Laughton’s strong performance with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms really struck a chord with the organization. The 20th overall selection in the 2012 draft posted 39 points in 60 games last season.
“Scotty had a terrific year,” Hextall said. “He improved a lot, I think his focus and professionalism; quite honestly. I think Scotty really grew up last year so Scotty certainly will be given an opportunity to make the club along with Michael.”
Both Laughton and Vecchione, who inked a two-year deal over the weekend as a restricted free agent, appeared in two games with the Flyers last season. Neither player recorded a point in their brief appearances.
Vecchione joined the team late last season after signing a contract out of Union College. Though limited, he did have some success at winning draws with a 66.7 percent success rate, having gone 5-2 in face-offs in his debut.
“Michael showed some good things towards the end of the year,” Hextall said.
“They liked what they saw,” Vecchione said over the phone in regards to how his exit interview went. “It was a small sample size, but they felt I could win faceoffs, that I’m a two-way guy and can move my feet with those guys. I felt I belong.”
It’s probably a bit premature to make any predictions, like Hextall said, but a few factors probably swing the pendulum in favor of Laughton.
The first is that he would have to clear waivers, meaning another club could claim him if the Flyers did decide to send him down to the AHL. Vecchione, though, can be sent down without needing to go through waivers.
The second is that, quite honestly, the organization has to find out what Laughton is as a player. He has seen 109 games at the NHL level but has just 27 points to show for it. His longest stretch in the league came in 2015-16, playing in 71 games with 21 points recorded.
If what Hextall said is true, that Laughton finally turned the corner last season in terms of maturation, then perhaps he’s ready to take that next step and be a consistent bottom six player.
While Vecchione is one year older than Laughton, it wouldn’t hurt the Union alum to get professional experience at the AHL level where he’d likely be among the first call-ups whenever an injury or poor play struck the big club.
This surely will be a battle to watch when training camp opens up, and one that sounds like it legitimately will be a case of “may the best man win.”
Unless, of course, a veteran is moved or someone really just looks poor during camp, then there may be spots for both guys.
“If a veteran comes in and he’s not ready to go, if he’s not hungry, if he’s not in shape, then there’s no guarantees,” Hextall said.