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2016-17 Flyers season review: Travis Konecny’s solid rookie year bodes well

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He may have came in under Flyers’ fans sky-high expectations, but Konecny performed well enough to be optimistic about his future.

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Kate Frese Photography

In May of 2016, the future of Travis Konecny’s hockey career was undeniably bright, but also uncertain.

He had just concluded an extremely successful season in the OHL, shaking off a relatively disappointing draft year to score 101 points in 60 games for the Ottawa ‘67s and Sarnia Sting. Already Philadelphia’s top forward prospect, Konecny vaulted himself into realistic contention for a roster spot with the big club in 2016-17, but much work still needed to be done, especially in terms of convincing the notoriously-patient Ron Hextall that he was truly ready for the NHL.

One standout training camp later, Konecny had left no doubts in the mind of his general manager. After consistently looking like one of the most dangerous forwards in almost every preseason game, the Flyers chose to keep Konecny rather than return him to juniors, allowing the precocious forward to begin his professional career at age 19.

Fans were understandably ecstatic to see him. Not only did Konecny qualify as a “shiny new toy,” he also brought a skillset to the table that was in short supply on the Flyers’ roster the previous season: gamebreaking speed and offensive ability.

The youngster certainly showcased flashes of brilliance. Konecny stormed out of the gate, scoring seven points in his first eight games while on a line with Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. But like most teenagers getting their first tastes of NHL action, Konecny dealt with some bumps in the road over the course of a long season, and did not finish the year on an especially high note.

Still, Konecny showed more than enough promise to establish himself as a key piece of the Flyers’ retooling process for years to come.

Travis Konecny

Category Status
Category Status
Position W
Age 20
Contract Status Signed Through 2018-19 for $894,167 per year

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
70 11 17 28 49 133 8.3%

5v5 Individual Stats

Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60 Penalty Differential Average Shooting Distance
Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60 Penalty Differential Average Shooting Distance
1.65 1.15 14.68 0.76 +7 26.78

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For % SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For % SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
49.8% -1.16% -0.9% 47.62% -2.23% 48.58% 99.65

5v5 Manually-Tracked Metrics

Timeframe Entries/60 Controlled Entry % Primary Shot Contributions/60 Exits/60 Controlled Exit % Turnover % Neutral Zone Score Offensive Zone Score Defensive Zone Score
Timeframe Entries/60 Controlled Entry % Primary Shot Contributions/60 Exits/60 Controlled Exit % Turnover % Neutral Zone Score Offensive Zone Score Defensive Zone Score
First 30 Games 25.48 (2nd among forwards) 57.86% (3rd) 27.89 (1st) 16.67 (5th) 57.48% (2nd) 18.11% (11th) 50.98% (8th) 5.16% (5th) -6.20% (9th)
Final 38 Games 19.95 (8th) 61.62% (3rd) 19.75 (10th) 15.72 (10th) 42.45% (13th) 26.42% (15th) 49.67% (14th) -10.12% (11th) 2.85% (7th)
All 68 Games in Dataset 23.03 (4th) 59.30% (4th) 24.28 (4th) 16.25 (8th) 50.64% (8th) 21.89% (14th) 50.41% (12th) -2.90% (13th) -2.23% (8th)

Konecny vs. his comparables

Just after it became official that Travis Konecny would indeed be earning a spot on the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening night roster, our very own Kurt R. penned a series evaluating realistic expectations for his rookie season. Initially, the fans came through with a projection of 46 points in 71 games, good for a strong 0.65 Point Per Game ratio. Kurt tried to temper those expectations, but even he ended up with an optimistic projection of 40 points in 74 games.

By those guesses, Konecny’s actual scoring totals (11 goals and 17 assists in 70 games) appear legitimately disappointing. From a raw point production standpoint, his rookie year ended far more like Marcus Johansson’s than the Dylan Larkin or Robby Fabbri-esque years that fans seemed to be expecting from Konecny.

However, there were extenuating circumstances that can’t be ignored, first and foremost being the completely ineptitude of the second power play unit. Had PP2 been remotely competent, Konecny probably finishes comfortably above 30 points this season. Instead, Konecny averaged almost as many on-ice shot attempts per 60 at 5v5 (60.88) as he did while on the ice at 5v4 (62.51) — embarrassingly similar rates. He was on the ice for just five power play goals this season, and either scored or assisted on each one of them.

Of course, Konecny cannot be absolved entirely for his part in PP2’s disastrous results. But as we’ll see later, his offensive metrics at 5v5 make me less inclined to believe that Travis Konecny is a bad power play forward. I’m more apt to view the second power play unit’s failures as mostly due to strategy and the players around Konecny, rather than Konecny himself.

As a result, I’m more interested in how Konecny performed at 5v5 in his rookie year. Back in October, Kurt evaluated the performance of each forward since 2010-11 who jumped into the NHL in his draft+2 season, coming up with 24 players. This past season, seven players (including Konecny) also made their debuts as draft+2s, and played in at least 40 games. This allows us to evaluate how Konecny performed relative to 30 age-related peers, both in 5v5 scoring (Points/60) and in play-driving relative to his teammates (CF% RelTM).

Konecny vs. Draft +2 Peers

Forward Season Games Total Points 5v5 Points/60 CF% RelTM
Forward Season Games Total Points 5v5 Points/60 CF% RelTM
Brandon Saad (CHI) 2012-13 46 27 2.22 +4.20%
Mitch Marner (TOR) 2016-17 77 61 2.17 -1.40%
Dylan Larkin (DET) 2015-16 80 45 2.06 +0.30%
Jonathan Drouin (TBL) 2014-15 70 32 1.97 +1.20%
Mika Zibanejad (OTT) 2012-13 42 20 1.96 +0.70%
Robby Fabbri (STL) 2015-16 72 37 1.91 +0.50%
Bo Horvat (VAN) 2014-15 68 25 1.81 -4.80%
Andre Burakovsky (WSH) 2014-15 53 22 1.72 +3.10%
Anthony Beauvillier (NYI) 2016-17 66 24 1.71 -4.40%
Sam Reinhart (BUF) 2015-16 79 42 1.68 +4.40%
Sam Bennett (CGY) 2015-16 77 36 1.68 +0.50%
Travis Konecny (PHI) 2016-17 70 28 1.65 -0.90%
Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA) 2012-13 48 31 1.56 -0.10%
Nikolaj Ehlers (WPG) 2015-16 72 38 1.55 +2.10%
Marcus Johansson (WSH) 2010-11 69 27 1.55 -4.90%
Mikko Rantanen (COL) 2016-17 75 38 1.52 -1.90%
Sebastian Aho (CAR) 2016-17 82 49 1.48 +1.20%
Ryan Johansen (CBJ) 2011-12 67 21 1.43 +3.10%
Magnus Paajarvi (EDM) 2010-11 80 34 1.35 +1.70%
Zemgus Girgensons (BUF) 2013-14 70 22 1.31 +2.10%
Devante Smith-Pelly (ANA) 2011-12 49 13 1.25 -2.80%
Kyle Clifford (LAK) 2010-11 76 14 1.19 -2.80%
Jake Virtanen (VAN) 2015-16 55 13 1.16 +4.70%
Jared McCann (VAN) 2015-16 69 18 1.14 +0.70%
Curtis Lazar (OTT) 2014-15 67 15 1 +1.10%
Brett Connolly (TBL) 2011-12 68 15 0.99 -1.10%
Alexander Wennberg (CBJ) 2014-15 68 20 0.91 +1.20%
Lawson Crouse (ARI) 2016-17 72 12 0.9 +0.40%
Tom Wilson (WSH) 2013-14 82 10 0.86 -1.30%
Pavel Zacha (NJD) 2016-17 70 24 0.77 -0.70%
Nino Niederreiter (NYI) 2011-12 55 1 0.11 +0.90%

From a scoring standpoint, Konecny grades out quite well. He’s not in the territory of the true elite, like Brandon Saad, Mitch Marner, Dylan Larkin or Jonathan Drouin, but he’s clearly a step above the lower tier as well. Per this list, it appears that 1.40 Points/60 is around the cutoff point for when it’s fair to worry about a forward’s scoring upside due to his rookie season, and Konecny comfortably clears that bar.

There are of course some exceptions — Alexander Wennberg and Nino Niederreiter both have become fine players — but it seems preferable to be surrounded by Sam Reinhart, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nikolaj Ehlers than Kyle Clifford, Curtis Lazar and Tom Wilson.

In addition, Konecny outperformed all but Marner and Anthony Beauvillier in terms of 5v5 scoring efficiency among 2016-17 Draft+2 rookie forwards. Sebastian Aho and Mikko Rantanen may have scored more raw points than Konecny, but that was due to either superior PP production (Aho) or more raw ice time (Rantanen). At even strength, Konecny had perfectly respectable production considering his age.

In terms of play-driving, Konecny’s performance was less impressive. He checks in at -0.9%, meaning that his linemates (on average) finished with Corsi For rates about one percentage point higher away from Konecny than when they skated alongside him. But while that’s not ideal, it’s not such a damaging impact as to dramatically decrease his value as a player. It simply means that if Konecny were never to improve in this area, he would fit best alongside play-drivers who can get him into the offensive zone to work his magic.

It’s also legitimately possible that Konecny improves in this area, as it’s not like his metrics are totally underwater. Huberdeau and Brett Connolly, two of Konecny’s closest comparables, have finished with positive CF% RelTM rates in each of the past three seasons. Neither have become elite play-drivers, but they’ve improved enough to keep their heads comfortably above water.

Travis Konecny essentially performed like a middle-of-the-pack 5v5 forward in terms of his age-related comparables — a little above-average as a scorer and a bit below-average by shot differentials. There’s nothing here that screams “future superstar” but also little to suggest Konecny will follow the career path of Tom Wilson, Kyle Clifford or Curtis Lazar. At this point, I’m comfortable in stating that “useful middle-six forward” is probably Travis Konecny’s floor at 5v5, with the upside far higher.

Konecny’s strengths and weaknesses

We know have an idea of where Konecny’s rookie season stands among his peers. But that type of high-level analysis gives us little insight into the player that Konecny is, which is when a deeper dive into the numbers becomes beneficial.

The 20-year old’s biggest strengths clearly reside on offense. When playing with Konecny, his teammates averaged 2.50 more shot attempts per 60 at 5v5 versus when they were away from him, implying that Konecny was coaxing more raw volume out of his teammates. In addition, the Flyers generated 0.24 more Expected Goals per 60 with Konecny on the ice versus when he was on the bench, ranking third among Philadelphia forwards in that regard (behind Jordan Weal and Sean Couturier). The numbers are clear — when Travis Konecny was on the ice, the Flyers created more offense than when he sat.

Statistics imply that Konecny actively drove that increase in offensive production. He averaged 24.28 Primary Shot Contributions (unblocked shots and primary passes that directly led to unblocked shots) per 60 in the 68 games tracked by Corey Sznajder this year, placing him fourth on the Flyers behind only Nick Cousins, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. In addition, his 59.30% controlled entry rate (4th among PHI forwards) and 23.03 Entries/60 total (also 4th) show that Konecny was consistently driving positive offensive outcomes in the neutral zone. In fact, with Konecny on the ice, the Flyers gained entry to the offensive zone with control a strong 54.47% of the time, far higher than their team average of 48.46%.

Konecny clearly facilitated a more rush-oriented game when he hit the ice, which unsurprisingly resulted in more tangible offense being created.

However, Konecny’s defense needs work. Just as he drove positive shot creation outcomes when he was on the ice in his rookie year, the Flyers also allowed more shots when he played as well. In fact, only Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds had more negative impacts on their teammates’ shot suppression than Konecny. Flyers teammates allowed an average of 4.43 more attempts per 60 when playing alongside the rookie. The same could be said about his impact on the weighted shot metrics, as the Flyers allowed 2.72 Expected Goals per 60 with Konecny on the ice and 2.28 with him on the bench.

He also struggled with turnovers at times, particularly in the defensive zone. His 21.89% failed zone exit rate was second-worst among Flyers’ forwards, higher only than that of Valtteri Filppula. Most concerning is that that he struggled in this area more as the season progressed. In the first 30 games of the year, Konecny posted a 18.11% Failed Exit rate, but it surged to 26.42% over the season’s final 38 games, by far the worst on the team.

This helps to explain why I was far more accepting of head coach Dave Hakstol’s treatment of Konecny during his rookie season than I was of the Shayne Gostisbehere situation. When it came to the electric young defenseman, it seemed to me that the problem was less that Ghost’s game was fundamentally flawed, and more that bad luck was causing the Flyers to fall back on a convenient narrative all too often placed upon puck-moving defensemen, even though the numbers did not support that conclusion.

With Konecny, on the other hand, his defensive play was a legitimate issue which detracted from his overall value as a player, and the numbers proved it.

New York Rangers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In addition, as a 19-going-on-20 year old, Konecny’s development curve is far less concrete than for the 24-year old Gostisbehere. Trying to break bad habits in a teenager’s rookie season seems to be a far more justifiable reason for a scratch than doing so with a 23-year old sophomore who just finished second in voting for the Calder Trophy and was dealing with terrible puck luck. The Flyers were undeniably a better team with Konecny on the ice, and the three healthy scratches that he saw this season did nothing to help the team’s playoff chances, but I’m open to the possibility that there was a developmental benefit to Konecny sitting.

At least in this situation, the coaching staff appears to have accurately evaluated the issues with Konecny’s game — defensive zone turnovers and play without the puck. The offensive skill is obvious, but Konecny’s issues on defense could keep him from reaching his ceiling of a top liner unless he progresses in that area over the next few seasons.

Making sense of Konecny’s poor finish

After comparing Travis Konecny’s rookie season to similar forwards who made the jump into the NHL at age-19, the young Flyer’s year grades out as perfectly solid, if unspectacular. But it’s fair to note that had Konecny’s season ended after his 51st game, when he suffered ankle and knee sprains, the rate statistics would spin an entirely different narrative.

Over those first 51 games, Konecny was a low-end first line scorer at 5v5 and mildly positive relative to his teammates in terms of play-driving, posting metrics more comparable to Robby Fabbri’s strong rookie year rate stats than those in the muddled middle. It was Konecny’s performance following his return from the injury in March that really dragged down his end-of-season statistics.

Konecny Pre and Post-Injury

Time Frame Games 5v5 Time on Ice 5v5 Points 5v5 Points/60 Corsi For% Relative CF% xGF% xGF% Relative
Time Frame Games 5v5 Time on Ice 5v5 Points 5v5 Points/60 Corsi For% Relative CF% xGF% xGF% Relative
Pre-Injury 51 632.20 19 1.80 50.71% +0.08% 48.65% +1.32%
Post-Injury 19 205.46 4 1.17 46.41% -5.36% 43.91% -11.92%

The discrepancies are staggering. Konecny basically went from Fabbri territory to the realm of Kyle Clifford and Devante Smith-Pelly over the season’s final month-and-a-half. The late season sag turned what would have been an auspicious rookie season statistically into a “just-okay” one.

There’s an obvious explanation for the dropoff, of course. Sprained knees and ankles are no walk in the park, and even though Konecny returned from the injury, it’s certainly possible that he wasn’t close to 100% for the stretch run.

But that’s not the only plausible reason for Konecny’s struggles in March and April. Considering the fact that it was his rookie season in the NHL and he was a teenager for most of the year, maybe Konecny just was worn down. Scouts have long worried about Konecny’s propensity to play an aggressive style not befitting of his relatively small frame, and whether he would be able to keep it up while playing in the NHL. It’s a big reason why he slipped all the way to No. 24 on draft day, giving the Flyers the opportunity to scoop him up. If that issue was going to rear its head, you’d think it might happen late in Konecny’s 19-year-old season.

The Dave Hakstol critics may propose another theory — that the coach’s treatment of Konecny during the season served to “screw up” the talented young forward. After all, Hakstol did scratch him three times, including twice right before Konecny suffered the injury in early February, and was at times critical of Konecny’s two-way game. Fans long disapproved of Hakstol’s unwillingness to use his rookie forward during 3v3 overtime, and his propensity to sit Konecny late in games while the team tried to protect a lead. As for the end of the season, the decision to give Konecny extended minutes on the fourth line alongside Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde was also a major point of contention among the Flyers’ fanbase.

However, I’m not convinced that Konecny’s late season swoon can be primarily attributed to the influence of Hakstol. Yes, the decision to put Konecny with Bellemare and VandeVelde was never going to succeed in extracting maximum value out of the young forward, and it predictably was a disaster in terms of results. Konecny posted a 41.84% score-adjusted Corsi and a 40% xG percentage when playing alongside Bellemare during that period, and it’s absolutely an experiment that should not be repeated next season.

While it surely felt like an eternity to Flyers fans, Konecny only spent about 57 minutes at 5v5 with Bellemare, about five or six games. It didn’t help his numbers, to be sure. But Konecny was even worse during that 19-game stretch when paired with Jakub Voracek, who he played alongside for 103.47 minutes at 5v5 in March and April. Amazingly, the duo posted a horrific 43.64% Corsi and an even-worse 33.46% xG during the period.

Armed with the knowledge that Konecny dragged down Voracek to that degree (after working quite well with him to start the year), it seems likely that Konecny was actually playing poor hockey and wasn’t just seeing his metrics tank due to a few games with Bellemare.

This doesn’t rule out the “confidence” argument, which essentially holds that because Hakstol was trying to change Konecny’s game, his overall results cratered as the young forward tried to please his coach. It’s obviously impossible to prove or disprove that theory without direct daily access to both parties, but it’s important to note that even when Konecny’s play-driving metrics were decent over his first 51 games, his shot suppression rates were still poor. I’m sympathetic towards Hakstol’s apparent goal of making Konecny a better two-way forward, because I do believe that Konecny will not reach his full potential unless he develops (at least) moderately decent play-driving ability, since he simply doesn’t have the scoring ability of a Mitch Marner, who can excel even when posting underwhelming shot differentials. If Hakstol chose the end of a lost season as the time to push Konecny out of his comfort zone a bit, I’m totally fine with that, as long as the poor metrics from March and April don’t carry over into 2017-18.

If I had to guess, it would be that the injury was the primary reason for Konecny’s poor close to the year. It took Sean Couturier over a month to start producing tangible offense following his return from a knee sprain, and his game isn’t even based around speed. I would wager that next season, Travis Konecny will perform far more like the player from his first 51 games than the one from the final 19 in his sophomore season.

What lies ahead for Konecny

Now that the long-awaited rookie year is out of the way, Travis Konecny enters his first summer as an NHL player with a solid understanding of the demands of the highest level of hockey. His strong start showed that Konecny is fully capable of producing offensively at this level, but the rocky conclusion to the year surely confirmed to the 20-year old that he still has much work to do in order to excel in the NHL.

Konecny’s full-season metrics at 5v5 were not elite relative to his peers, but sit solidly in the middle of the pack, near valuable players like Jonathan Huberdeau, Nikolaj Ehlers and Marcus Johansson. A lack of power play production kept his raw scoring metrics unimpressive, but Travis Konecny absolutely proved that he is a cut above the age-19 rookie busts like Lazar and Wilson. Considering his comparables, there’s no reason to think that Konecny is anything other than a future top-nine forward at the NHL level.

Of course, the Flyers are hoping for more from him, and so are the fans. Luckily for them, Konecny’s performance over his first 51 games was that of a bonafide second line winger before ankle and knee injuries put him on the shelf for a month, and that’s at age-19. When he returned, unfortunately, Konecny was not the same player from a performance standpoint. However, so long as that dropoff was related to the injury and not due to some deeper issues with his game, the late-season decline is not especially concerning.

Still, Konecny’s game is far from perfect at this point. He did struggle with turnovers in the defensive zone, at times trying to be too fancy rather than allowing for his teammates to find soft spots in the neutral zone before hitting them with an exit pass. In addition, his on-ice shot suppression metrics were below-average all season long, implying that his play without the puck needs work as well.

I doubt that Konecny will ever become a defensive stalwart, but considering his tenacity and skating ability, there’s no good reason why he can’t at least become adequate in terms of defensive results. And as he gets physically stronger with time, the offensive game (which is already above-average) could develop further as well.

At this point, Konecny has proved himself a useful middle-six forward at a very young age, which is a valuable asset for the Philadelphia Flyers even if he’s already reached his peak, which seems unlikely. The goal now for both Konecny and the coaching staff is to use that foundation as a jumping off point to his true ceiling, which hopefully is that of a high-end scoring forward in the NHL.

All stats courtesy of Corsica.Hockey, Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, or the manual tracking work of Corey Sznajder at The Energy Line. On-Ice data derived from Corey’s manually-tracked metrics courtesy of Muneeb Alam.