Danick Martel made his Flyers debut Wednesday night at left wing on the second line … without one NHL game to his credit or even a single practice with his linemates.
Perhaps it can all be viewed as a refreshing change for a team that needed a shock to the system, and certainly a different look for an offense that has routinely struggled to score goals.
But more than anything, it revealed a much more glaring problem for the Flyers: Has Travis Konecny regressed to the point that general manager Ron Hextall needs to consider other options?
Martel has now slipped into the role once occupied by Konecny, whose performance so far this season has been nothing short of sporadic.
The second-year winger had a string of games playing on the left side of Valtteri Filppula and Wayne Simmonds, but the line never really generated any sustained success, and head coach Dave Hakstol doesn’t seem to know what to do with Konecny at this stage of his career.
Left wing, right wing, second line, third line. One quarter into this season and already Konecny has been a linemate with eight different teammates, and his ice time has fluctuated anywhere between nine and 18 minutes per game.
This can’t be what the front office envisioned for Konecny when he made the Flyers' roster straight out of training camp in 2016. He may have played like an All-Star during the preseason, but exhibition hockey games typically lack a full complement of NHL players, many of which take the necessary measures to ensure they don’t overextend themselves and suffer an injury before the regular season begins.
At this stage of their careers, the 22-year-old Martel and the 20-year-old Konecny appear to be almost side by side in their development. As Martel has exploded in his third season with the Phantoms, Konecny has struggled in Year 2 with the Flyers, and a lack of confidence has seemingly followed.
He has just two goals on 84 attempted shots, many of which have left a black smudge on the glass behind the net, and he’s one of the few Flyers forwards with less than 50 percent of his shots on goal. Konecny, more than anything, needs to experience success along with a committed focus on his defensive responsibilities.
One Western Conference scout who attended Tuesday’s Flyers game against the Canucks believes Konecny could benefit greatly given time with the Phantoms.
“He went straight from juniors to the NHL,” the scout, who chose to remain anonymous, said. “He hasn’t really learned to play a responsible two-way game at the pro level. I don’t think it would hurt him to refine his game and gain some confidence in the American League.”
Martel had no choice. He went undrafted after three seasons in the QMJHL. Nothing has been given and everything has been earned. Martel told Joe Santoliquito of the Philly Voice last week there’s a certain dose of determination that comes with being 5-foot-9, 162 pounds.
"I love proving people wrong. It’s why I went undrafted,” Martel said. “It’s why I have a f--- you attitude! That started when I was younger. Not a lot of people trusted in the way I play and my size. I’m going to score anyway. That’s the way I think. It’s the way I play. I’m not small. I play big. You want to make a mistake. Judge me by my size.
“I love pissing off the bigger players because they automatically assume that they’re better than me. It’s why I will never stop working. I need to work on the defensive zone if I’m going to play in the NHL.”
Martel has a hunger and determination that Konecny needs to rediscover. There’s no reason he should have minor-league immunity. Scott Laughton needed a full year with the Phantoms to become the player the organization envisioned, and it appears to have paid off.
As Hextall stated when he sent highly-touted Oskar Lindblom to Lehigh Valley prior to the season opener in San Jose, “American League time hasn’t hurt one player in the history of professional hockey. It’s not a death sentence.”
Let’s remind ourselves that even Claude Giroux had a 38-game stint with the Phantoms.
Right now, it can only help the career of Konecny in the same way it has worked out for Martel.