Travis Konecny came into training camp last September uptight and concerned about hitting the sophomore slump. It’s only coming out now because the Flyers’ season is over, and that sophomore slump, it never happened.
Instead, Konecny, 21, took an exponential leap. He established himself as a top-six scoring forward, spent considerable time on the top line with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux and vastly improved defensively from his rookie season.
Konecny didn’t lose the edge to his game, either. He continued to build a reputation as a pest and has even drawn comparisons to Brad Marchand. He just learned how to manage it.
It was a Monday night late in his rookie year that served as the wake-up call, against the Blue Jackets, his first career two-goal game. At 7:20 of the third period, in a 3-3 game, he took a roughing penalty against Oliver Bjorkstrand that led to Columbus’ game-winning goal.
“Hero to zero just like that,” a hoarse Konecny recalled last week at Flyers Skate Zone.
And, in his second year, it was a game in Columbus that proved to be his turning point. On Dec. 23, after registering just 10 points in his first 35 games, Konecny found himself on the first line.
While Konecny didn’t score in the Flyers’ 2-1 shootout loss, it was the beginning. From that point forward, he broke through. Konecny, in his next 46 games, potted 20 goals, 37 points, saw his shooting percentage increase from 6.1 percent to 18, his plus/minus from minus-2 to plus-19 and his ice time rise a full three minutes. In 23 games from Dec. 28 to Feb. 18, he recorded 11 goals and 24 points, with five multi-point games and six game-winning goals.
“He’s a big part of the future of this organization,” Couturier said. “He’s got a lot of skill, a lot of speed. He can change the game himself. He’s one of those players that has that ability. I think as a young guy, he learned a lot this year. At the end of the year, he was more of a responsible player. He was taking better care of the puck and doing the right decisions.”
By the end of the season, though, Konecny found himself off the top unit. Not because of his play but rather that Dave Hakstol wanted to spread the wealth. Hakstol moved Konecny to the third line with Valtteri Filppula and Wayne Simmonds during the Flyers’ 5-4 loss to the Islanders on April 3, and Konecny remained away from Giroux and Couturier in the playoffs.
Konecny said his time on the first line gave him the confidence to try things he wouldn’t have before, and that remained when he was moved away from Couturier and Giroux.
“When he got some confidence, he started being a very dangerous player,” Giroux said. “He’s dynamic, beats guys 1-on-1, makes plays. He just matured. The immature player that had a little turnover or whatever it was, it was out of his game at the end of the year.”
Konecny, though, made it a point to say that while he’s learned to limit his mistakes, risks will always be a part of his game.
It’s just a matter of learning when and where is the right time.
“I have to make sure those high-risk plays,” Konecny said, pausing. “If you want to be a successful player or a high-end player, I do believe you have to make some of those plays.”