Travis Konecny

From 'immature' to established scorer, inside Travis Konecny's maturation

From 'immature' to established scorer, inside Travis Konecny's maturation

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.”

Forget the booing comment, Claude Giroux still has something to prove

Forget the booing comment, Claude Giroux still has something to prove

Claude Giroux sat there at his end-of-the-season news conference last week, answering question after question and periodically sipping from his Wawa 16 oz. coffee cup, because Giroux has been here for 10 years and that is what Philadelphians do.

Then came a pointed question that, in hindsight, Giroux could have handled better — with a little less truth and a bit more deceit.

Was this crowd tough on you, not just you but the whole team? 

“I do think so,” Giroux said. “I think when it’s not going very well, fans, they start booing us and stuff. That’s when we try to do too much after.”

And here we are. Giroux, after another disappointing playoff performance, is being painted as a whiner, and we’re from Philadelphia, and we don’t complain; some of us throw objects onto the ice in the postseason instead. Even after Giroux posted the Flyers’ first 100-point season in over 20 years, calls to break up the core have resurfaced.

Frustrations with the Flyers’ lack of playoff success are warranted; they haven’t won a series since 2012. Criticism of Giroux’s postseason play is fair. Since Peter Laviolette called him the “best player in the world” in 2012, Giroux has 13 points and a minus-14 rating in 23 playoff games. As the Flyers’ captain and one of the best players in franchise history, that just isn’t going to cut it. Giroux has to be better.

“You play the game to go as far as you can,” Giroux said. “Early in my career, I got a chance to go to the Cup, went to the second round a couple of times. For us to get in that position being able to play longer, I strongly believe we are [headed] in the right direction.”

The expectation placed on the Flyers by Ron Hextall has been to compete in the playoffs during the rebuild — and yes, we can use that “R” word. Last week, Hextall finally admitted what we knew all along, that “this is a bit of a slow process.” But the Flyers are getting younger and the clock is ticking on the Giroux era.

Now comes the question of whether the Flyers can still win with Giroux. Perhaps, though, the better question is, in what capacity will Giroux be when the Flyers are ready to contend again?

Giroux, 30, posted career highs across the board in 2017-18. He finished second in the NHL in scoring, with 102 points, and had his first 30-goal season (34), all while bouncing back from his worst 82-game season in 2016-17 since his first full year. But with four years left at $8.275 million per, Giroux put to rest the notion his contract would haunt the Flyers.

While Hextall enters his fifth offseason as GM, the first with any real cap space, the Flyers are still getting younger. Travis Konecny avoided the sophomore slump, while Nolan Patrick, after a bumpy start, established himself as the team’s No. 2 center. Oskar Lindblom played well, and there will likely be more kids here next season.

"I think it is good competition," Giroux said. "Look at Nolan Patrick and TK — they really took a step forward. They're going to deserve more ice time, more situations. For guys like us, you gotta keep going. At the end of the day, this game's a business. The best at the job will get the job. You have to be able to push yourself. We want those kids to do great."

In that lies the answer. Can the Flyers still win with Giroux? Sure. It’ll come down to whether he’s part of the core or here as part of the veteran presence when they’re ready to contend.

But to cherry-pick Giroux's honest response to a specific question is unfair. We're from Philadelphia, and captains are our punching bags. Fair or not.

Flyers' forward grades and outlook for next season — Part 3

Flyers' forward grades and outlook for next season — Part 3

We conclude our evaluations of the Flyers at each position today with a look at Part 3 of the forwards:

After evaluating goaltending and the defense, we turn our attention to the Flyers’ forwards, one of the deepest groups under coach Dave Hakstol and a group that produced nine double-digit scorers in 2017-18.

Travis Konecny

Regular Season: B+

Playoffs: C

Konecny found another gear to his game once he was paired with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. He scored 19 of his 24 goals from the beginning of January to the end of March. Still needs work on limiting turnovers and not abandoning defensive responsibilities in favor of the breakaway pass. Konecny saw an extreme variance in playing time from 9:16 in a Game 2 win to 17:56 in a Game 6 loss. Hard to get into a flow and develop chemistry.

2018-19 outlook: Konecny will enter the final year of his entry-level deal, so he could benefit greatly with a solid all-around 2018-19 season and the potential of reaching the 30-goal mark for the first time. 

Nolan Patrick

Regular Season:

Playoffs: B-

Patrick overcame a rough start to his NHL career, battling concussion symptoms with a solid finish. Patrick gained confidence and comfort in the second half, which was evident in his speed and attacking style in the offensive zone. He showcased a tremendous set of hands, especially on the power play. Scored a big goal in the Game 2 victory over Pittsburgh and was the Flyers’ best forward in a 5-0 Game 4 loss.

2018-19 outlook: Two more years on an entry-level contract.

Michael Raffl 

Regular Season: B-

Playoffs: D

Considering Raffl saw very little playing time on the power play and on the Flyers’ top line, his 13 goals would be considered a respectable bounce-back season. Played a solid two-way game, finishing with a plus-9 and, like Jake Voracek, was strong on pucks while sneaky quick on the forecheck. However, Raffl didn’t appear to have that extra gear in the playoffs, as I thought he would generate more of an offensive attack playing with Patrick and Konecny.   

2018-19 outlook: Entering the final season of a three-year, $7.05 million contract in what could be his final season in Philadelphia. 

Jordan Weal 

Regular Season: D-

Playoffs: Incomplete

There wasn’t a more disappointing season than Weal’s after the promising finish of 2016-17. Had a strong start in his first 10 games, but could never contribute consistently offensively and with that came a loss in confidence. When he had possession of the puck, Weal rarely tried to find an open seam or create a shot, instead electing to find a teammate to pass to.  

2018-19 outlook: The Flyers will likely keep Weal with one more year remaining at $1.75 million. He still has an element of speed to his game, a much-needed attribute, especially on a third line.