Each day leading up to Sept. 14, the official start of Flyers training camp, we'll dissect the biggest storylines facing the team ahead of the 2018-19 season.
Travis Konecny’s summer came and went without much noise. There was no contract extension; just boat fishing and skeet shooting with his family in Port Stanley, Ontario.
Konecny was eligible for an extension since he’s entering the final year of his entry-level contract, but there was no rush to extend the 21-year-old even if it made sense.
Now an established scorer, Konecny enters his fourth NHL training camp with a prominent role with the Flyers. The question, though, is just how high profile will it be?
The trajectory of Konecny’s 2017-18 season saw the feisty winger begin the campaign in the middle six before working his way up to the top line in December. From there, he stayed and dominated with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux. Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol split the trio up during the final week of the season in attempt to spread the scoring around the lineup.
Then, in the playoffs, Hakstol kept Konecny off the top line, which was a questionable decision since the Flyers were being outclassed by Pittsburgh. Putting Konecny back with Couturier and Giroux would not have changed the outcome, but Giroux did not have a good series. Konecny may have been able to free Giroux up against the Pens.
That is a fair criticism of Hakstol, but the head coach does deserve credit for how he has handled Konecny. We can complain about benching Konecny in his rookie season all we want, but the player received the message and he’s developed at a rate that you cannot be displeased with.
And last season, Hakstol showed more trust in Konecny and gave him more rope to play with. Konecny did not have to look over his shoulder after every small turnover, worrying that he would be headed to the press box. Hakstol deserves praise for his overall handling of Konecny.
“I thought that I came in a little uptight with thinking about the sophomore slump,” Konecny said during his April 25 exit interview. “I was concerned about that. I learned a lot this year. I was about to build my game defensively a lot better and to be able to go through those 30-odd some games with G and Coots gave me a good opportunity to grow as a player as well.”
Konecny finished last season with 24 goals and 47 points, but during a 23-game period from Dec. 28 to Feb. 18, he scored 11 goals and 24 points, with five multi-point contests and six game-winning goals. The turning point was Dec. 23, when he was bumped up to the top line.
With the Flyers opening up training camp Friday, one of the storylines to watch as preseason plays out is Konecny’s spot in the lineup. Couturier will miss some time with a knee injury, so we will not know for a little bit if the plan is to reunite Konecny with Couturier and Giroux.
There remains a chance Giroux shifts back to center as the Flyers have a vacancy on their third line. And we have to consider the Flyers’ depth this season too. They have legitimate forward depth after bringing back left winger James van Riemsdyk on a five-year contract in free agency.
Much has been made about the success Couturier and Giroux had last season. Both had career seasons and they both played off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. And the Flyers like to view their lines not as trios but as duos. That philosophy likely won’t change, but it should.
The trio of Couturier, Giroux and Konecny was an ideal match. Couturier finally saw his offensive game come around last season but is known for his defensive game. Giroux has tremendous vision, hands and playmaking. Konecny has speed and a wicked shot.
Blending those three together made a lethal top unit. Couturier is not exactly the best at carrying the puck out of the zone — not that he’s bad at it, it’s just not his specialty — and that was an area that was exposed in the playoffs. Konecny’s speed frees up so much ice, which allows Giroux to have more space in the neutral zone. Ideally, that line begins the season.
But Hakstol has genuine options this season with his lines. Nolan Patrick should take a big step in his second season, especially after an injury-free summer. van Riemsdyk’s addition gives the Flyers seven legitimate top-six forwards, which is something they haven’t had in a long time.
A lot of us have penciled van Riemsdyk or Wayne Simmonds onto the third line, but we should also strongly consider that Konecny may be the player who gets pushed there. But even that line should be better this season than last, even with the current vacancy in the middle.
Where exactly Konecny plays will be hammered out during preseason and training camp, but he has the potential to hit the 30-goal mark this season. The Flyers are expected to be a playoff team and should be competitive enough to win a series. Konecny will be a big part of that.
The only thing up for grabs is who he will flank on a nightly basis.