It’s playoff time, everybody, and you know what that means. It’s that time again. It’s time to hit on all of our favorite old story lines. There’s a whole mess of them that folks like to revisit at about this time every year, but today we’ll be looking at just one--the tension between the youth movement and playoff experience.
The Flyers’ push towards the youth movement has been no secret--with an emphasis on drafting well and building up the pipeline, it was only a matter of time before that young talent started to break heavily into the ranks of the big club. And this year, with six players on their roster aged 22 or younger, the Flyers have finally broken into proper Young Team territory.
And this youth has been, by and large, productive. Indeed, 61 of the team’s 249 goals (24.5 percent) and 143 of their 693 points (20.63 percent) have been scored by these six players—Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Nolan Patrick, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, and Oskar Lindblom—under the age of 23. And this seems a respectable figure for players not named Giroux, Voracek, or Couturier, for example, and points to a certain level of stability they’ve been able to bring in the scoring department. Secondary scoring has been something of an intermittent issue with this team, this isn’t a secret either, but at the end of the day their contributions have graded out well enough.
But when we look at this, and pair this consistency in production with the contributors’ ages, and place it in the face of the looming playoffs, we’re left with more questions than anything else. Can they keep up this production? How will they fare in the playoffs? How can we guess, if we’ve never even seen them there? How can they do much of anything without that context of their own? Are we just hanging them out to dry? Nervous eye darting and vague shrugging reigns.
The discussion around playoff experience places rookies and young players who haven’t yet reached the playoffs in something of a double bind--these players are presented as the future of the franchise, and expected to perform well in the playoffs, but it is also posited that playoff experience is critical to playoff success, and those without that context can’t be expected to thrive. So where does that leave us? Where does it leave them? Do both of those side hold equal weight in the first place? Again, it seems we return to that vague shrugging thing.
But let’s leave that behind, we can work through this together. Let’s do some unpacking. We talked to some of our favorite rookies and second year players to see how they’re taking this theory, and how they’re preparing. They’re going to help us out.
Rookie Oskar Lindblom--by this “playoff success necessitates playoff experience” narrative--seems to have something of a leg up over his rookie and second year counterparts. He played 20 games in the SHL playoffs last season, which saw him score 14 points, and has at least some experience playing in an elite league’s postseason under his belt. And maybe it’s this history, or maybe it’s just him, but his approach to this upcoming series is decidedly a relaxed one. For him, the key is to “just kind of go into it [on a good note], be positive… have fun out there. It’s going to be a war, but it’s going to be fun.” It comes down, it seems, to understanding the difficulty looming, but keeping oneself from getting stuck in a fatalistic or tense headspace. It’s the next step forward, and one to be enjoyed, come what may.
For Travis Konecny, the sentiment of going into this series on a positive note is echoed, but for him, it also figures to be a learning experience. He’s doing what he can to prepare, but, he says, “it’s tough. The playoffs are a whole new beast. I’ve had the opportunity to play a little bit of playoffs in Junior hockey, and I’m just looking forward to getting my first opportunity to play in my first NHL playoffs. You know how tough it is, it’s probably one of the hardest things to win in the world, to be completely honest, it’s a grind, it’s tough. But, you know, I’m gonna be learning, I’m gonna be talking to everyone in the room, I’m gonna be making sure I know how to approach each game, how to take care of my body, because, you know, I’ve never been through something like this.”
So the playoffs, then, become a question of building on what you’ve done and learned already, and taking in what you can from the people in the room who have been there already. But his lack of context isn’t treated as a hindrance to potential for success, but just one more element that needs taking into account. It’s something to build from.
But let’s get a little more direct. What about our initial question, the bind between experience and success? When I asked Nolan Patrick about this, how much weight he gives this narrative, experience’s necessity, he was clear: “none really.” It’s not a thought line he has much time for, and he explained, “I don’t really read into any of that stuff. So, I’m just excited, it should be fun.”
So where does this leave us? We may have to wait to see what they do from tomorrow on to try to completely kill this old narrative, but in our early talks, I’m inclined to align with Patrick. Is playoff experience this mystical key to unlocking the great, spectacular unknown that is the NHL postseason? Not exactly. It’s not as simple as just hitting all the right buttons, unlocking your bonuses, and leveling up. It’s the next step in a progression, but it’s one these players have prepared for all year, and for which they already have all the tools they need. They’ve spent a whole season learning and amassing lessons, honing skills.
The kids are alright. And they’re going to be just fine.