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Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25: Travis Konecny is fighting for a roster spot

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The Flyers' unquestioned best forward prospect is coming off of a year in which he was one of the best forwards in the CHL. Will he follow it up with a camp that's good enough to earn him a spot in the NHL?

Dennis Pajot / Getty Images

While the Flyers have taken significant steps forward in every area of their prospect pool in the past three or four offseasons, it's tough to remember a pick that was as instantly exciting as the team's selection of Travis Konecny in the 2015 draft. A lottery-level talent in a draft that was widely regarded as one of the best in recent memory, the Flyers' decision to trade up to the 24th spot and end the talented forward's fall down the draft board was widely celebrated and praised by fans and neutral observers alike.

Still, the pressure was on Konecny to show that that fall into the 20s should never have even happened. The number one overall pick in the 2013 OHL Draft, Konecny had a just-OK draft season in 2014-15, likely leading some teams to sour on him a bit. After the Flyers picked him, he was sent back to Ottawa in the OHL pretty early on in training camp with a clear objective in mind: dominate this league like the high-end prospect you are.

One year later, it's fair to say Konecny accomplished that. Now, his goal this year is fairly simple: make the NHL.

Will he?

No. 4: Travis Konecny

Position: C/RW
Age: 19 (3/11/1997)
2015-16 League/Team/Statistics: Ottawa / Sarnia (OHL) - 30 G, 71 A in 60 GP
Nationality: Canadian (London, ON)
Acquired Via: 2015 NHL Draft -- Round 1, Pick 24 (Pick acquired via Tampa Bay along with a third-round pick in 2015 and Radko Gudas for Braydon Coburn)

Before we tackle that question, though, let's quickly recap the season Travis Konecny just completed in the OHL, because it deserves some recognition. Konecny -- who, by the way, played mostly at right wing last year after technically being drafted as a center -- started out very strong and kept the pedal down while he was in Ottawa, with several multi-point games and an overall 1.55 points per game average in 29 games with the 67's.

That strong start earned him a spot as an underager on Canada's under-20 World Junior Championships team, where he was mostly relegated to fourth-line duty by Team Canada. That relegation, as you may recall, was stupid:

On the other hand, [head coach Dave] Lowry's lack of faith in Travis Konecny was inexplicable. Despite minimal ice time, Konecny proved one of Canada's most dangerous forwards throughout the tournament. He may have finished with only one goal and one assist in five games, but considering his usage and absence of power play opportunities, his unimpressive point totals were no surprise.

Things didn't slow down at all for Konecny when he returned back to Canada, where he was almost immediately dealt to the Sarnia Sting in a whale of an OHL trade. The crown jewel of a trade that saw two players and potentially as many as ten draft picks sent back to Ottawa in exchange, Konecny found himself moving from a middling OHL team to one that had a legitimate chance at a league title.

And as Konecny's situation improved, so did he. While Konecny frequently found himself on the scoresheet in Ottawa, that was mostly by way of his passing -- of the 45 points he had with Ottawa last year, only seven of them were goals. Things turned quickly for him in Sarnia, though. While the assists were still there, Konecny fwas suddenly putting the puck in the net himself at a mind-blowing rate, with 23 goals in 31 games. Some of this is likely a matter of percentages -- he was maybe a bit unlucky for parts of the year in Ottawa and playing a bit over his head in Sarnia -- but the move did seem to work out for the best for him.

That is, until the playoffs, when Konecny's tremendous season was cut short. He was sent to Philadelphia with a shoulder injury just two games into those playoffs, and he ended up sitting out the rest of a series that saw second-seeded Sarnia lose 4-3. It was a sour ending to an outstanding year for Konecny, who finished tied for seventh in the league in scoring.

Should Konecny be sent back to the Sting, he'll almost certainly once again be one of the best players in the league. But is that in the cards? Or is he going to be wearing orange and black this year?

You may remember a key part of that Ottawa-Sarnia trade was that the two highest draft picks that were dealt to Ottawa were contingent on Konecny staying in Sarnia this season, a sign that neither team really expected him to come back to the OHL this year:

Ottawa expects Konecny to be with the Flyers next season, and they aren't going anywhere this season, so they're getting a ton of future draft picks to help soften the long-term blow of losing him.

Sarnia believes they will lose him as well, and that's why those conditions exist on two of those draft picks. But it's still worth it to them to give up two players and eight draft picks, since they want to win a title right now and Konecny is that good.

Whether those teams believed that based on any kind of inside knowledge or just on a gut feel of sorts is unknown, but it's a reasonable guess to make about a guy who lit the OHL on fire for just about the entirety of last season.

Of course, the only person who really can make that decision is Ron Hextall, and as we know by now, that means that Konecny is going to be in tough to bolt down an NHL spot.

Our own Charlie O'Connor developed a checklist earlier in the offseason that he believes Hextall more or less abides by when deciding whether or not a prospect is ready to be in the NHL. Let's take the four points on it and apply them to Travis Konecny:

  1. Is he physically ready for the grind of an 82-game NHL season and playoffs?
  2. Did he have a strong season last year at a lower level (CHL, college hockey, Euro leagues, AHL)?
  3. In training camp, has he consistently showcased the skillset that allowed him to thrive at that lower level?
  4. Is he better, right now, than a current player at his same position on the NHL roster who fills a similar role?

Let's skip around in the order for a second here. First, we'll look at the yeses. Number two is an obvious yes. Number four is almost certainly also a yes -- put Ron Hextall on a lie detector, and he'd probably name at least three or four guys in the Flyers' forward lineup that Konecny may be outright better than right now. (Possibly working against Konecny here would be the idea that the Flyers wouldn't want him playing in fourth-line minutes, limiting the number of players he can realistically beat out for a spot, but Hextall could find room for him in the top-9 if he really wanted.)

The jury is still out on number three -- Konecny's only played in one preseason game so far -- but it's worth noting that Konecny's never done anything but impress at every camp that the Flyers have held. Proving he can play his game against NHLers, even preseason-quality NHLers, will be a big test for him, but fans who are rooting for him to make the roster can be optimistic that this one will work out.

But still, the biggest question mark appears to be the first point. The size question is one that's followed Konecny around since before he was drafted -- can a guy who plays his tenacious style at 5-foot-10 succeed at the game's highest level without breaking down?

Konecny's done what he can to try and prepare himself. He's added nearly 10 pounds since last year, putting him at around 183 as of development camp. For someone at his height and someone who plays at his speed (read: fast as hell), he's probably not going to add much more than that.

So from here, the question is simply a matter of whether Hextall believes he's got it in him to make it through that grind. Konecny's played between 60 and 65 games in each of his three OHL seasons (though that doesn't account for international games last year or in 2013-14), and has had injury problems in multiple years during that time. Even those who want nothing more than to see him on the roster would admit it's a big step forward to have him in a full 82-game NHL season this year.

But it sure looks like Konecny is going to get his chance. All he can do from here is keep showing off his high-end speed, hands, and offensive prowess, and hope that those will get him into the NHL this season. But even if it's not this year, Travis Konecny will be scoring goals for the Flyers pretty soon -- and that should have fans very excited.

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How we voted for Travis Konecny :

Kelly Travis Charlie Allison Kurt Brent Collin Kevin Al Community
3 4 4 5 5 5 4 4 4 4

How we voted at No. 4 :

Kelly Travis Charlie Allison Kurt Brent Collin Kevin Al Community
Ivan Provorov Travis Konecny Travis Konecny Scott Laughton Travis Sanheim Travis Sanheim Travis Konecny Travis Konecny Travis Konecny Travis Konecny

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Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25, Summer 2016: