When the 2015-16 hockey season begins all eyes will be on Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Both household names across the hockey world, both dubbed generational talents, both set to begin their NHL careers in October. While McDavid and Eichel will most certainly provide entertaining story-lines to hockey fans for the next 20+ years there are a number of other NHL prospects suiting up in the OHL that are worth keeping an eye on. Some have serious breakout potential, some will face new challenges and increased responsibility, some are in need of a bounce back season. Whatever the case it is my goal that by the time the puck drops on September 24th you have the information and insight you need to follow more than just your favourite CHL team.
Travis Konecny – Philadelphia Flyers
5’10” 176 lbs
2014/15 Team: Ottawa 67’s
Draft Status: Selected 24th Overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2015
The 1st overall pick from the 2013 OHL Priority Selection Draft exploded onto the scene in his rookie year scoring 26 goals and adding 44 assists for 70 points, leading all OHL rookies in goals and points and ranking 3rd among all CHL rookies in points. Only Nikita Scherbak (selected 26th overall by Montreal in 2014) and Nikolaj Ehlers (selected 9th overall by Winnipeg in 2014) had more with 78 points and 104 points respectively. Konecny was named 2013/14 Rookie Of The Year for his efforts on the ice, that, coupled with his character, leadership skills and insatiable work ethic prompted 67’s management and coaching staff to name him team captain for the 2014-15 season. Needless to say, the 67’s, and Konecny himself, would have high hopes for the 2014-15 season; the 67’s were a team poised to take a step forward, out of the basement and into the playoffs while Konecny was looking to improve his draft stock and build on an impressive rookie season.
Let’s compare Konecny’s totals with those of fellow top OHL rookies Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner for context. Konecny, Strome and Marner were all drafted in into the OHL in 2013; Mitch Marner was drafted 19th overall by the London Knights while Dylan Strome was selected 2nd, after Konecny, by the Erie Otters. All three were considered top prospects for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft with top 10 buzz. A look at their point totals in 2013-14 demonstrates how good Konecny’s rookie season was and why expectations for 2014-15 were so high.
In contrast, the avidity surrounding Konecny would be tempered in the early going of 2014-15 as he would struggle to produce at the same rate as fellow top prospects Mitch Marner and Dylan Strome; both of whom who would excel in their second season, climbing into the conversation as top prospect not named McDavid or Eichel. Strome and Marner would race neck-and-neck for the scoring title, with Strome scoring 6 points in his final game to claim the title. Marner would more than double his rookie season totals while Strome would more than triple his. Konecny, on the other hand would score two fewer points than his rookie total.
Why was Konecny unable to improve on his rookie season the way other top prospects were? Maybe it was because Konecny was the main scoring threat on an Ottawa team that lost 2013 top NHL prospect Sean Monahan to the Calgary Flames, while Marner got to play with Arizona top pick in 2013, Max Domi and Strome was able to avoid his opponent’s top lines who were busy trying to stop Connor McDavid. Maybe the increased leadership role Konecny faced provided a distraction. Maybe there were lasting effects from the vicious head shot he sustained from Gianluca Curcuruto of the Plymouth Whalers early in the season (which landed Curcuruto a 12 game suspension).
While Konecny’s sophomore season had its challenges it had its shining moments. He scored 2 goals and had 1 assist in the CHL Top Prospects game, a game in which he was the best player on the ice (named 1st star), he put up 10 points in 5 playoff games and he was voted best skater and 2nd best stickhandler in the OHL’s Eastern Conference Coaches Poll, not too shabby. Konecny also possesses an incredibly high compete level and plays with intensity night in and night out. He doesn’t shy away from the dirty areas and often drives the net with reckless abandonment; add to that a hard, accurate shot that he deploys with a quick release. Had Konecny put up the numbers Marner and Strome did in their draft year, he’d have been a surefire top 10 pick; instead he slid to 24th overall where the Philadelphia Flyers traded up to grab him.
Keep an eye on Konecny this season. I expect the struggles from last year and his slip in the draft to light a fire under him. He’ll be out to prove that skipping over him in the draft was a mistake and that he was worthy of the top 10 selection many projected at the beginning of the year. I expect Travis Konecny to be one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the league this year and push 100 points. When he does; he will make Ron Hextall and company look very, very wise.