Travis Konecny had just finished up his sophomore season and had a few days to process how it came to an end, bitterly against the Penguins in his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Konecny leaped from an immature rookie to an established scorer. He built onto his reputation as a chirper, and his personality screams bloody murder on the ice.
Two weeks ago, at his end-of-the-season news conference, Konecny didn’t let losing his voice impede that charisma from rising when asked about Nolan Patrick wanting to improve his shot.
“Yeah, he needs that,” Konecny quipped.
Now 21 years old, Konecny is one of the Flyers’ many young building blocks, along with the 19-year-old Patrick (see story). The Flyers are getting younger. Their average age in 2017-18 was 25.92, which was their youngest since the 2008-09 season (25.55), and the expectation is that they’ll get even younger next season. They haven’t had back-to-back seasons with an average age below 26 since a five-year period from 1990-95.
It’s hard to ignore, and the Flyers know it. Konency sees a young nucleus building. He came into the league with Ivan Provorov, who, at 21, is already among the league’s first-class defensemen. The current core knows what’s coming, and while some outside noise howls for the Flyers to break it up, GM Ron Hextall doesn't appear to have any plans on doing that.
Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier have been together since 2011-12. Giroux’s time as a Flyer spans back further. From a Flyers historical perspective, keeping a core together for this long without sustained playoff success is unprecedented.
“It’s funny because I see these relationships that these guys have,” Konecny said. “All those guys who have been around, talking about when they were rooming together way back. You see how close they are. They have that long relationship that they’ve built. I think it’s exciting for us. All the young guys get along here. We’ve all got stories with each other.”
While the Flyers’ playoff struggles under this core have continued, the core is still producing. At 30, Giroux posted the Flyers’ first 100-point season since 1995-96. Voracek, 28, set a career high with 85 points. Couturier finally broke down the walls with a 31-goal, 76-point year. Simmonds, despite playing through major injuries, still scored 24 goals.
As Konecny and Patrick prepare for a larger slice of the pie, there will be others stepping in too. Think Oskar Lindblom, who gained valuable experience in 21 games this season, and perhaps any of the forward prospects who graduate to the NHL.
“We all know what’s going on in junior,” Voracek said, “in AHL, the farm team. For us, the older players, which is weird for me to say, it’s a good thing. You need to be pushed sometimes.”
The Flyers are in a transition phase, and Hextall made it a point to declare that they’re not passing the torch from the core to the kids but it’s balancing experience and youth. Hextall pointed to the Sharks a few seasons ago when they made the Stanley Cup Final with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton in their mid-30s.
“It’s all about those older players as they get older, our younger players are gonna take a bigger piece of the pie,” Hextall said. “If you look at teams that win, they typically got their older group and their middle group, and maybe a couple of young guys. That’s the way we’re going.”
Konecny wasn’t done poking at Patrick. With the heckle about Patrick’s shot behind him, Konecny told a story about how he turned Valtteri Filppula’s jeers against him onto Patrick.
“Fil says a lot of stuff to me,” Konecny said. “Like, ‘Oh, in my second year, I never would have done this.’ I say that stuff to Patty. ‘Oh, last year, I never would have done that.’ I’ll still do it next year.”
And so the Flyers’ next long-term relationship begins.