At some point across the past few years, in some portions of the wide world of hockey fandom and analysis, the term “role player” became something of a dirty word.
To many, a “role player” is a player who may not be the best all-around player but has a particular job and typically does it well. But to others, players that are consistently referred to as “role players” are done so because they’ve got fairly limited skillsets and their “role” is what keeps them in the lineup over an arguably-more-talented player.
Think of the guys you’ve most commonly heard referred to as role players over the past few seasons watching the Flyers. Without naming specific names, how many of the guys in your mind were ever much more than bottom-half-of-the-lineup (at best) players? The term has become something of a code word for players that we maybe just wouldn’t think of as key contributors to a team.
Let’s briefly tweak that definition for a second, though. What if we took a certain kind of scorer — one who, say, isn’t a dominant player, but fits well with good players and won’t look out of place alongside them? One whose role is scoring goals and helping his teammates score goals, and is limited in other areas? In other words, one who fits that first definition we’ve given above?
Whatever you want to call it, that definition of a player brings us to Travis Konecny, and the decision the Flyers are currently in the process of making in regards to how they want to commit to him for the future.
No. 4: Travis Konecny
Age: 22 (3/11/1997)
Size: 5’10”, 175
Acquired Via: 2015 NHL Draft — Round 1, Pick 24 (Pick acquired from Toronto in exchange for Picks No. 29 and 61 in 2015 on June 26, 2015)
2018-19 League/Team/Statistics: Philadelphia (NHL) - 24 G, 25 A in 82 GP
Ranking in BSH Winter 2019 25 Under 25: 4
The story of Konecny’s path to where he currently stands is reasonably well-known if you pay enough attention to these things, but we’ll run through it again here for good measure. The 2013 first-overall pick in the OHL priority selection draft by the Ottawa 67’s, Konecny came in with a lot of hype and had a very strong age-16 season in 2013-14, fueling hype that he could be a potential top-10 pick in the 2015 draft. But a somewhat stagnant 2014-15 season (marred by some battles with injury) knocked him down a peg or two, and he fell on draft night down to 24th overall before your very own Philadelphia Flyers moved up from the 29th pick to grab him.
From there, Konecny lit the OHL ablaze in 2015-16, and was the centerpiece of a massive midseason trade from Ottawa to Sarnia — one that unfortunately did not pay off for the Sting due to a shoulder injury suffered by Konecny. The following year, Konecny made the Flyers following a strong camp in fall of 2016, and got out to a hot start in the NHL before slowing down a bit as his rookie year went on. The following season, a slow start let to some questions about what exactly Travis Konecny was and could become in the NHL ... before a mid-season line change put him alongside Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, at which point he became one of the most productive players in the entire NHL at 5-on-5 over the course of the second half of the year.
Konecny’s strong second half created some pretty high expectations for him — at this time last year, we had him third on this very countdown, and full-season point totals befitting of a true first-line winger seemed inevitable in 2018-19. How good could Konecny be? Had he truly broken out in the way we (and the Flyers) were hoping when they drafted him in 2015?
A year later, the answer to that last question is unfortunately not quite as clear as we would hope. On paper, Konecny took a very slight step forward from the previous season — his 49 points came in just above his 47 points from the year prior, and he matched his 24-goal mark from that season. That’s no-doubt top-6 winger production, and it was mostly done at even strength. At worst, Konecny further proved that he’s a solid offensive contributor that fits in the top half of a team’s lineup.
Yet the thoroughly dominant Travis Konecny that we saw at times between January and April of 2018 seemed to be more of a guest star than a main character. Additionally, the strong supporting cast that Konecny had during his strong 2018 run was in place for most of this past season; his most common linemate by far was Claude Giroux, and most of the time those two were together their third linemate was either Sean Couturier or James van Riemsdyk (via), two guys who can certainly put up points.
All in all, Konecny was probably a bit more consistent this season than he was the last, as he put up points at a solid clip from start to finish. Scoring droughts were pretty rare for Konecny outside of a stretch in December, and he was rarely a guy that you would say disappeared from the ice. And he was third on the team in goals — and second at 5-on-5 — which is big for a team that sometimes feels like it’s missing that real sniper-type that can just light the lamp.
But it felt sort of like the “wow” factor wasn’t there as much for Konecny, at least not as much as it was in that aforementioned stretch in 2018. Maybe that’s just a case of us having our expectations too high — he wasn’t going to play like a top-5 goal scorer in the NHL forever, right? Still, we see something shiny and hope it stays that way forever, and sometimes we can’t help but be disappointed when it doesn’t happen.
So what the Flyers appear to have in Konecny, at the moment (and we should stress that, at the moment, Konecny is all of 22 years old and most likely not a finished product), is a solid, versatile, and very fun-to-watch scoring winger who will score like a top-six forward if you put him with other top-6 forwards. That’s valuable, particularly when the player in question has shown he can create goals on his own.
On the other hand, he hasn’t quite shown that he can do what he does now when he’s the best player on his line. Additionally, he’s pretty much a one-way winger at this point, and his play-driving numbers are just fine — positive, but not overwhelmingly so given how much time he spent last season with the team’s two best forwards, and not what you’d expect them to be for a guy with Konecny’s talent.
What that all sounds like is a really strong support player who will be successful and productive in the right role. The question now is what that’s worth to the Flyers. Literally, in one sense — as of this writing, Konecny is still not signed to a contract, and while the expectation is that one will be reached before the season begins, it seems like the Flyers themselves are wondering exactly how much money they should give to a guy who’s got the resume that Konecny currently does.
Because what if what Konecny’s shown to be to date is pretty much what he is? Again, that’s a good player, but we’ve seen the Flyers (granted, under previous front offices) decline to commit really long-term to forwards that fit that kind of a profile. (Brayden Schenn, hello.) What’s a good offensively-oriented top-6 winger worth? Is that a guy that the Flyers see as a core piece to the organization? Or is he a — here’s that word again — role player in the organization?
The best-case scenario is that Konecny takes even more steps forward, starts establishing himself as one of the most exciting and best wingers in hockey, and makes any conversations about how firmly he’s entrenched in the long-term plans look ridiculous. And to be clear, no one should quite be betting against that yet. (As the original Travis Konecny supporter of this website, I certainly am not.) And again, what we already know Konecny to be is a pretty damn good player, because guys who can score goals at the rates we’ve already seen Konecny at don’t grow on trees. Support player, role player, specialist — call him whatever you want. He’s a strong offensive contributor in the NHL right now.
But it still feels like there’s more to be found here than we’ve already seen. That’s probably a big part of why our panel had him behind (spoiler alert) Travis Sanheim, a guy who’s also had elite flashes but has shown the ability to be that dude on the ice for extended periods of time, without a ton of help. Can Travis Konecny get to that level? Can he be the guy who’s not just a strong third link on a first line but also, say, the best player on a strong second line? We’re excited to find out whether or not he can.
Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2019 Top 25 Under 25:
- Intro & Honorable Mentions
- No. 25: Linus Hogberg
- No. 24: Jay O’Brien
- No. 23: Yegor Zamula
- No. 22: Felix Sandstrom
- No. 21: Robert Hagg
- No. 21: Robert Hagg
- No. 20: Samuel Morin
- No. 19: Mark Friedman
- No. T-17: Tanner Laczynski
- No. T-17: Samuel Ersson
- No. 16: Bobby Brink
- No. 15: Mikhail Vorobyev
- No. 14: Nicolas Aube-Kubel
- No. 13: Wade Allison
- No. 12: Cam York
- No. 11: German Rubtsov
- No. 10: Isaac Ratcliffe
- No. 9: Joel Farabee
- No. 8: Oskar Lindblom
- No. 7: Morgan Frost
- No. 6: Philippe Myers
- No. 5: Nolan Patrick