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Combatting the sophomore slump: Checking in with Travis Konecny

What’s going on here?

Kate Frese / SB Nation

If you’re someone like me, who spends just an unholy amount of time on Twitter, especially after Flyers games, you’ve probably noticed some trends in thinking by now. For example, most everyone has spent some time excited about the prospects, mad about the coach, and exasperated by the lack of production from the nominal third line, whatever the arrangement of it may be. There’s, more or less, a consensus to be had there. The internet dwellers are all on the same page. Until we aren’t.

There are, then, other areas where the fanbase couldn’t be more at odds - -and players like Travis Konecny are finding themselves at the center.

The takes on this subject have been widely varying.

He’s the most fun on this dumb, boring team! He’s just snake bitten! He’s got some growing to do! He’s not good! Send him to the AHL! Jettison him into the sun!

Okay, well, maybe not that last one. But you get the point. Where we’ve seen consensus elsewhere, there’s none to be had when it comes to Konecny. He’s either a franchise treasure or a total bust, and very rarely somewhere in between.

But even below the surface of the relative assuredness of his skill and aptitude lies a bit of frustration. Is he living up to expectations? What were the expectations, to begin with?

In our own pre-season BSH Over/Under game, five out of eight respon--I’M NOT CALLING YOU GUYS OUT WOULD YOU RELAX.

Excuse me. Five out of eight respondents predicted Konecny would pick up over 41.5 points during the 2017-18 season. But is that prediction holding up?

With us now sitting at just about the mid-season point, why don’t we take a few moments to check in with one of our most polarizing players. Number 11 in your programs, number one in at least some of our hearts. Or something like that.

To start this check-in we actually have to take a bit of a step back, to hop into our time machine and scoot on back to 2015, and Konecny’s draft+1 season.

*Delorean sounds*

“Philadelphia selects, from Ottawa in the Ontario Hockey Lea--”

Wait wait wait, too far, so sorry.

*More Delorean sounds*

Okay, better. Here we are, settled into October and the start of the 2015-16 season. The Flyers are trucking with a strong enough start, our hopes are still intact, and after a solid training camp, Konecny’s been sent back to join his juniors team, the Ottawa 67s.

2015-16

Games Played Raw Goals Raw Goals per Game Raw Points
Games Played Raw Goals Raw Goals per Game Raw Points
60 30 0.5 101

Back in the OHL, he played 60 games between Ottawa and, after a midseason trade, the Sarnia Sting. In those 60 games, he was able to record 30 goals, for a tidy .5 goals per game figure. These 30 goals, paired with his 71 assists for a total of 101 points left him sitting at eighth in the OHL in points scored. And things just kept getting better.

After an even stronger training camp the following year, Konecny made the Flyers’ permanent roster for the 2016-17 season. Expectations ranged from reasonable to high, but he did well to surpass them.

Adjusted Goals

Age Adjusted OHL Goals Age Adjusted OHL GPG Translated NHL Goals Translated NHL GPG
Age Adjusted OHL Goals Age Adjusted OHL GPG Translated NHL Goals Translated NHL GPG
23.85 0.398 7.39 0.123

When considering his 30 goals scored in his final season in the OHL, and when adjusting that figure for age and league quality, those 30 goals in Juniors can be equated to 7.39 goals in 60 NHL games. This expectation can be upped to 10.1 goals at the NHL level, when one assumes an 82 game sample.

In 2016-17, then, Konecny outperformed that estimate. In 70 games, he picked up 11 goals, and was on pace for 12.89 goals in 82 games.

So, given this exceedance of expectations, we could reasonably expect even more growth from last season to this season, right? Well, not quite.

As we sit here on January 7th, as I type this, Konecny has played 42 games, and registered five goals and a total of 15 points. And, assuming an 82 game sample, this puts him on pace for 9.76 goals and 29.29 points on the season--well below our pre-season estimate and a clear drop from last season, at least in goals scored. So, what gives?

Perhaps the easiest answer to this query is “linemates.”

Last season, Konecny spent 39 of his 70 games--that’s 55.71 percent--on a line with either Voracek and Couturier or Simmonds and Schenn. So, despite a relatively brief stint stuck with VandeVelde and Bellemare, Konecny had support from solid and dynamic linemates. And, of course, Voracek and Couturier were not the Voracek and Couturier of this season, but their impact was almost certainly more helpful than harmful.

By comparison, with the near constant shuffling of lines, this season Konecny has been wanting for these kinds of more or less consistent linemates. To date, he has played nine games with Patrick and Weise, five with Filppula and Simmonds, and seven with some kind of fourth line mish mash of Laughton and one of Raffl, Leier, or Lehtera. And the numbers tell the story of this contrast pretty plainly. Let’s have a look.

2016-17 Relative at 5v5

Player Games Played RelT CF% RelT xGF/60
Player Games Played RelT CF% RelT xGF/60
Couturier 66 4.48 7.24
Voracek 82 -0.97 0.02
Simmonds 82 -2.28 0.09
Schenn 79 -3.64 0.1
Konecny 70 -1.21 0.13

During the bulk of last season, Konecny was on lines whose members were driving play reasonably well--given the team averaging an adjusted 50.56 percent CF% at five on five--and picking up respectable expected results. Konecny and his most common linemates in Couturier and Voracek were in the top 10 out of 17 forwards in RelT CF%, and each of the five players listed above were top 10 in RelT xGF/60. But this season is a different story.

2017-18 Relative at 5v5

Player Game Played RelT CF% RelT xGF/60
Player Game Played RelT CF% RelT xGF/60
Patrick 33 -6.94 0.12
Weise 34 -5.99 -0.65
Filppula 42 -4.6 -0.21
Simmonds 42 -1.1 -0.13
Laughton 42 5.09 0.07
Raffl 42 2.74 0.16
Leier 31 4.6 -0.09
Lehtera 24 -0.22 -0.74
Konecny 42 -2.4 0.31

By contrast, Konecny’s most common 2017-18 early season linemates--Weise and Patrick--are 12th and 13th respectively among 13 forwards in RelT CF%, with Laughton, Raffl, and Leier in the top five. Additionally, only Konecny and Patrick are in the top five forwards in RelT xGF/60. With the team performing about equally to last year in these metrics, we see that Konecny’s quality of linemates has taken a bit of a dip. And where his relative expected goals/60 has improved, his adjusted CF% has taken a distinct hit.

2017-18 Individual at 5v5

Player Games Played P1 iCF/60 ixGF/60 iSH%
Player Games Played P1 iCF/60 ixGF/60 iSH%
Konecny 42 8 14.7 0.71 8.06

That said, it isn’t all bad news for him. On the individual level, Konecny is still performing rather well. His seven primary points puts him fourth among forwards, while he sits at first in iCF/60, and third in ixGF/60.

But curiously, one area where he’s struggled, compared to a number of his teammates, is individual shooting percentage. After these 42 games played, Konecny has recorded a 8.06 shooting percentage. And while this is an improvement from last season, when he posted a 5.31 shooting percentage, it still leaves him at seventh among forwards, a ranking disparate from where he sits relative to his teammates in the other metrics examined above.

So, of course, it would be an oversimplification to just blame his lack of success to date on poor performance from his linemates, to deflect culpability in such a way. This may well be a factor, to be sure, but the blame cannot be settled exclusively here. We’re seeing Konecny doing well to generate shots at even strength, but what may be the culprit in the lack of success in converting on them is the quality of those shots.

Through 42 games, Konecny has registered 83 total unblocked shots, third among forwards. And this seems, in isolation, a promising figure. However, of those 83 unblocked shots, only 19 came from high danger areas. For comparison, the only forwards with more unblocked shots than Konecny are Voracek--30 high danger out of 105 total unblocked shots--and Couturier--with 44 high danger shots out of 115 total unblocked shots. So while Voracek and Couturier are generating 27.55 and 38.26 percent high danger shots, respectively, Konecny has generated just 22.9 percent. And this seems to explain the relative disparity between his shooting percentage and other performance metrics--he’s putting good work in, but not putting himself in the position to best capitalize on these chances. And this lack of conversion and production is most clearly apparent in what is otherwise one of the hallmarks of his game.

One of Konecny’s greatest assets is his speed. Dude is fast. And he’s at his most dangerous when he’s using this speed to fly into the offensive zone and threaten opposing goaltenders on breakaways. We’ve seen him be little short of spectacular in this area, but we’re also seeing him not quite living up to his potential, in converting on these would-be particularly dangerous chances.

goals denoted by darker orange

Through this first half of the season, Konecny has had ten breakaways where he was able to put a shot on net. We can see that he has something of a comfort area, as seven of these ten chances are more or less tightly grouped in the area on the edge of the right faceoff circle. And that’s part of the problem.

Looking at these ten chances, eight of them came from moderate-to-low danger areas, meaning that on 80 percent of his breakaways, he had, at most, a nine percent chance of scoring. And while he has still gotten some results from this approach--three goals--there’s more that can be done, in order to make these chances for dangerous to opposing goaltenders.

And while three goals is not a figure to scoff at, by any means, there is something to be said about the quality of the goaltenders who were beaten by these moderate danger shots. Two of these breakaway goals were made against goaltenders currently playing below replacement level, in Craig Anderson and Thomas Greiss, who currently hold .899 and .882 save percentages, respectively. The third came against Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, who is holding a respectable .922 save percentage for the season, but was a save percentage of .903 going into the two teams’ first meeting, when the goal was scored.

But despite the fact that these shots may not be as statistically dangerous as possible, there is still a fair defense for these particular shot selections. When I asked him about favoring this area, Konecny explained:

“I’m definitely comfortable there, when I come in on that side. I don’t know, I’m just trying to shoot the puck and get shots on net. A lot of times you can overthink yourself right into the goalie, and, you know, your opportunity’s gone. So whenever I get an opportunity to shoot the puck I’m just looking to make the goalie make a save and get it on net.”

The answer to the question of shot selection, then, may lie in such a middle ground--a space overlapped both by player comfort and statistical efficacy.

So, all this considered, what are we looking at? Who was right, in this series of contentions?

On the surface, looking at just raw goal scoring and point accruing, there may be some cause for concern. Simply, as it stands, Konecny is on pace to score fewer goals than he did last season, and just about even out in points. Which is a regression. Which we don’t like to see.

But this may be where the cause for concern ends. Given his underlying advanced metrics as detailed above, we can see that, despite the lack of results in terms of points on the board, Konecny isn’t exactly floundering, on an individual level. He’s generating chances better than a good portion of his teammates, which in and of itself is a good sign. It bodes well for future production--if the process is there, it stands to reason that the results will follow, sooner or later.

And for more good news, he’s getting better, with better linemates. It’s a relatively small sample, admittedly, but in six games spent on the top line with Giroux and Couturier, he’s averaged an adjusted CF% of 54.09 at five-on-five. While this isn’t exactly a spectacular figure, it marks something of an improvement. And it’s a big step in the right direction, a big move away from the games where he and his linemates were getting regularly thrashed by their opponents.

So, is this a sophomore slump? It’s hard to say. And maybe it’s not as simple as a yes or no, anyway. We have a young player who’s still learning, and yeah, making mistakes, but growing in the process. And with some more thought and better decision making on his part—particularly on the defensive front—and more optimal player deployment on the part of his coaches, we can see that growth continuing.

Am I worried? No. Nor should we be, just yet.

All stats and graphics via Corsica.Hockey, HockeyViz, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com

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