Travis Konecny is 22 years old and playing a career-high 17:14 minutes per game during his fourth NHL season. He leads the Flyers in scoring with 15 points through 14 games on a team not lacking established players.
Oskar Lindblom is 23 years old and playing three more minutes per game than he did last season, his first full year in the NHL. He is second on the Flyers in scoring with 12 points and tied with Konecny for the team lead in goals at seven.
The two developments are the Flyers’ biggest positives to the start of 2019-20, a season with heightened expectations because of last season’s costly failures. The two developments also don’t jive with a narrative from head coach Alain Vigneault’s final days in New York, where, at times, his ability to coach younger players was maligned and his willingness to play them was doubted.
So far, the play of Konecny and Lindblom has laughed at the notion. Both players have blossomed in Vigneault’s system and appear poised for breakout seasons. The Flyers haven’t shown any reluctance to playing rookies, suiting up seven and even placing four in the lineup at once. Joel Farabee, a 19-year-old prospect, is playing on the team’s top line and first-unit power play just eight games into his NHL career.
The Flyers are 7-5-2 with 16 points, matching their highest total through the first 14 games of a season since 2014-15. Vigneault has said he’s a firm believer in “talent has no age” and you’d be hard-pressed to claim he hasn’t backed up his words during the early stages of his first season as Flyers head coach.
Following practice Wednesday, Vigneault was asked about the Flyers’ youth taking immediate strides under his watch contradicting the can’t-coach-kids perception.
At some point, someone is going to give me a list of all those young players that I’ve screwed up — I’m not saying I’m perfect — but that have left my coaching and gone to somewhere else and become these incredible players. In [Vancouver], there were three players that [people] were on me constantly — none of them really turned out to be these amazing players.
In New York, I would really like to have that list. I know I’m not perfect and I never pretended to be, but I don’t know a lot of players that left our coaching, my coaching, and did go somewhere else and become these great players. I look at the Chris Kreiders, I look at the Derek Stepans, the Ryan McDonaghs, the Jesper Fasts, and I go on. All those guys when I got to New York, they were just the same as all these young guys. And they’re all turning out to be pretty good players.
Sometimes there’s a perception — sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong. For me, it’s no big deal. I’ve just got to go do my job.
Vigneault has a valid point about his time with the Rangers, which we detailed here.
Konecny, a spirited winger who plays with pace and aggressiveness, has also made a point by racing out of the chute in Year 1 with his new coach. Vigneault’s teams play a style predicated on wearing down the opposition through an effort-based, possession-oriented attack.
The smart play is the best play — it doesn’t mean a 200-foot focus completely restricts creativity.
“He has an expectation for the team and that’s that — every player is accountable for their actions and we have to play the right way and do all the little things the same,” Konecny said. “It’s not one line that has to chip the puck in or play the right way in the D-zone. He’s got every single line, every single player doing the same stuff. And just over time, the consistency shows how dominant we can be. His style of play has worked elsewhere, so we trust it.
“He wants the sure play, like the 100 percent play that is going to help us win. Whether it is chip it in, whether you make a hockey play, you get in and see somebody open, you try to make the play. You better hope it at least gets through, you don’t want it to get picked off. But other than that, there are no real guidelines to exactly what you have to do. He wants you to play hockey, he wants you to have fun, but make sure you’re doing the right play for the team.”
Age be damned, Konecny and Lindblom have done a lot of the right things.
“As a coach, you’re looking to be able to trust your players,” Vigneault said.
Trusting his young players in Philly has been no big deal, just like his thoughts on that perception in New York.
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