Laughlin was drafted in 1977 by the Montreal Canadiens. He played for several years with the Nova Scotia Voyageurs of the American Hockey League, Montreal's minor league affiliate, before he made it onto the Canadiens' roster for part of the 1981–82 season. In September 1982, Laughlin was traded to the Washington Capitals in the monster deal that also brought Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, and Doug Jarvis to Washington. His contributions helped guide the Capitals to their first playoff appearance in team history.
Laughlin was traded to the Los Angeles Kings on February 9, 1988. He played the 1988–89 season, his final season in the NHL, for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Laughlin would play one season for EV Landshut of the German Hockey League before retiring from active play. In 549 NHL games, Laughlin scored 136 goals and 205 assists.
Laughlin has been the television color analyst for Capitals games since 1990, where he currently is paired with Joe Beninati. He also participates in many Capitals Alumni activities and is involved in charity work in the Washington, DC area.
Laughlin played collegiate hockey at Clarkson University; his uniform #22 is retired by the school.
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