Setting realistic expectations for Travis Konecny’s rookie season

The 19-year old will begin his rookie season on Friday. What should we expect from him this year?

As you know, Travis Konecny has made the Flyers’ roster and will, barring something highly unforeseen, be with the team for the entire season. The news — which came alongside the news that fellow rookie Ivan Provorov has also made the NHL team — has invigorated the Flyers’ fanbase, which is surely very excited to see Hextall’s youth movement take a big step forward.

Often, great excitement can lead to great expectations. So with that, let’s check and see where exactly everyone’s expectations are when it comes to Travis Konecny this year, and where they maybe should be.

Last week, we put out a call asking for you, the reader, to guess what Travis Konecny will do this coming season if he makes the Flyers — whether or not he would make the team, as well as how many games he would play in and how many goals and assists he would tally if he does indeed make the team. If you filled out that survey, thank you for doing so, as we’ll rely on it a lot here. By the time we closed that poll last weekend, we had received 1,354 responses in total.

First and foremost: out of those 1,354 responses, a bit under 79 percent of them said that they expected Travis Konecny to make the Flyers this season. Congrats to the majority. I’m sure the other 21 percent are fine with being wrong here.

After taking some of those initial responses out due to various reasons (obvious joke answers, ranges instead of just a single number, people who didn’t read the instructions cough cough, etc.), we were left with 1,211 responses that gave a straightforward, one-number answer to the following three questions:

  1. How many games will Konecny play in?
  2. How many goals will Konecny score?
  3. How many assists will Konecny have?

And here were your answers — in other words, the average of every response we received — to these questions:

  1. How many games will Konecny play in? 71 games.
  2. How many goals will Konecny score? 18 goals.
  3. How many assists will Konecny have? 28 assists.

For you all keeping score at home, that’d be a total of 46 points, or 0.65 points per game.

Is that a realistic expectation for Konecny’s rookie year? Let’s try and answer that question. (For simplicity’s sake, we’ll solely focus on point-scoring rather than defense, possession or the entire two-way game the player brings throughout this piece.)

Being a 19-year old rookie is really hard

Konecny is currently two years removed from the season he played right before he was drafted, meaning this upcoming season is what some call his "draft +2" year. If we want to get a good feel for how he may perform this year, we can start by comparing him to other players who entered the NHL in their draft +2 years.

With some help from the outstanding Play Index at, I was able to find a list of 24 forwards who played their rookie season in 2010-11 or later, played their rookie season in their draft +2 year, and played at least 40 games in said rookie season.

That list is as follows. We’ve also included some base-level numbers for those players in their rookie years, and overall averages for the group as a whole.

Name Rookie Season Games G A PTS PTS/G TOI/G
Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA) 2012-13 48 14 17 31 0.65 16.94
Brandon Saad (CHI) 2012-13 46 10 17 27 0.59 16.46
Dylan Larkin (DET) 2015-16 80 23 22 45 0.56 16.55
Nikolaj Ehlers (WPG) 2015-16 72 15 23 38 0.53 16.10
Sam Reinhart (BUF) 2015-16 79 23 19 42 0.53 16.84
Robby Fabbri (STL) 2015-16 72 18 19 37 0.51 13.32
Mika Zibanejad (OTT) 2012-13 42 7 13 20 0.48 13.57
Sam Bennett (CGY) 2015-16 77 18 18 36 0.47 15.14
Jonathan Drouin (TBL) 2014-15 70 4 28 32 0.46 13.24
Magnus Paajarvi (EDM) 2010-11 80 15 19 34 0.43 15.39
Andre Burakovsky (WSH) 2014-15 53 9 13 22 0.42 12.92
Marcus Johansson (WSH) 2010-11 69 13 14 27 0.39 14.72
Bo Horvat (VAN) 2014-15 68 13 12 25 0.37 12.26
Zemgus Girgensons (BUF) 2013-14 70 8 14 22 0.31 15.31
Ryan Johansen (CBJ) 2011-12 67 9 12 21 0.31 12.73
Alexander Wennberg (CBJ) 2014-15 68 4 16 20 0.29 15.62
Devante Smith-Pelly (ANA) 2011-12 49 7 6 13 0.27 12.04
Jared McCann (VAN) 2015-16 69 9 9 18 0.26 12.52
Jake Virtanen (VAN) 2015-16 55 7 6 13 0.24 11.56
Brett Connolly (TBL) 2011-12 68 4 11 15 0.22 11.47
Curtis Lazar (OTT) 2014-15 67 6 9 15 0.22 12.90
Kyle Clifford (LAK) 2010-11 76 7 7 14 0.18 9.50
Tom Wilson (WSH) 2013-14 82 3 7 10 0.12 7.94
Nino Niederreiter (NYI) 2011-12 55 1 0 1 0.02 10.11
Average 66 10 14 24 0.37 13.54

Right off the bat, you may notice that this is a list of guys with impressive draft pedigree — of the 24 players listed, 21 of them were first-round picks just like Konecny was, and many of them went higher in their respective drafts than Konecny did. And by and large, it’s a list that has a lot of talented players, the types of players who you can expect to be in their teams’ top-6 forward groups into the next decade. (It’s also a list that has Tom Wilson.)

Still, you’ll likely also notice that most of these players — guys who, just like Konecny, came into their rookie year with a lot of hype and were expected to make a difference immediately — didn’t exactly light the NHL on fire in most of their first seasons, at least not to the extent that we, as a fanbase, seem to think Travis Konecny will this year.

Of these 24 players, just one of them reached a mark of 0.65 points per game in his rookie year, and that was Jonathan Huberdeau, the third overall pick in 2011 and the Calder Trophy winner in 2013. Only five other players topped the half-point-per-game mark at all — and of those five, four of them were getting pretty heavy ice time (over 16 minutes per game). Things drop off steadily from there, all the way down to Nino Neiderreiter’s 55-game, one-point rookie year. (I think, if nothing else, we can be confident that Konecny will outpace that rookie season.)

As a whole, the group averaged 10 points and 14 assists in 66 games in their respective rookie seasons, for a mark of 0.37 points per game.

Now, it’s important to note: 0.37 points per game is not a bad rookie season! Especially for this list of players! Scoring in the NHL is really hard for just about everyone nowadays, let alone for guys who are 19 and 20 years old and who, in a lot of cases, weren’t playing for very good teams or getting steady ice time.

The find here is not controversial or revolutionary: there’s a learning curve in the NHL, and just about every non-transcendent prospect is subject to that curve. This is something that everyone knows, but at the same time we are all guilty of forgetting a) just how steep that learning curve is, and b) that the curve very much applies to our own young players, no matter how excited we are for them as their NHL careers begin. It’s rare for players to come right in and score like top-line forwards, and while Travis Konecny certainly could do that, it’s not something we should necessarily count on.

Reasons for optimism

With all of that said, let’s point to two reasons to think Konecny has a great chance to end up on the higher end of that rookie table than the lower end of it when all is said and done.

First of all, Konecny comes in with a better track record of scoring than a majority of the above list. Let’s compare Konecny to the other 18 guys from that list who played in Canadian major junior in their draft +1 year, showing how they scored in that year in the CHL next to how they scored in their rookie seasons. (Junior stats via hockeydb.)

Name Final Junior Year points/game NHL Rookie Year points/game
Jonathan Drouin (TBL) 2.35 0.46
Sam Bennett (CGY) 2.18 0.47
Nikolaj Ehlers (WPG) 1.98 0.53
Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA) 1.95 0.65
Brandon Saad (CHI) 1.73 0.59
Robby Fabbri (STL) 1.70 0.51
Travis Konecny (PHI) 1.68 ???
Andre Burakovsky (WSH) 1.53 0.42
Ryan Johansen (CBJ) 1.46 0.31
Jared McCann (VAN) 1.45 0.26
Sam Reinhart (BUF) 1.38 0.53
Bo Horvat (VAN) 1.37 0.37
Curtis Lazar (OTT) 1.31 0.22
Nino Niederreiter (NYI) 1.27 0.02
Brett Connolly (TBL) 1.24 0.22
Tom Wilson (WSH) 1.21 0.12
Jake Virtanen (VAN) 1.04 0.24
Devante Smith-Pelly (ANA) 0.99 0.27
Kyle Clifford (LAK) 0.98 0.18

Konecny had quite the year last year between Ottawa and Sarnia when it came to lighting up the scoreboard, and you can see that guys who do that before making the jump to the NHL usually get off to a pretty solid start. Of the six players with more prolific draft +1 seasons than Konecny, all of them were at least close to a half-point per game in their rookie seasons, and four of them were ahead of that.

If nothing else, this makes intuitive sense; guys who scored a lot in juniors are probably going to score a lot in the NHL. We still haven’t quite seen a projection on Konecny that would have us near that 0.65 mark that the fans have predicted, but this has us moving in the right direction.

The other factor working in Konecny’s favor here is a bit more fluid, but it’s one that right now looks pretty promising: opportunity. Some things are more in the team’s control than others, but let’s look at just two things that a coach can do that will allow a player to score more points: give him time on the power play, and play him with good players at even strength.

Konecny received pretty regular power play time during the preseason, and it looks like he’s going to get a chance to play on the second power play unit this year. While the Flyers’ second power play unit has struggled a lot in recent years, you could argue it hasn’t had an explosive offensive talent such as Konecny on it in a while.

The Flyers’ second power play unit (which we’ll loosely define as "all of the time the Flyers spent on the power play without Claude Giroux on the ice") got just over two minutes of ice time per game last season. If Konecny sees about two minutes of power play time per contest, that will certainly lead to more opportunities to score — the kinds of opportunities that the top rookies on our chart from earlier had.

As for linemates, it’s tough to project that kind of thing right now with how much coaches tinker with their lineup. But it sure looks like Hakstol is planning on having Konecny work with some of the Flyers’ most talented forwards. Konecny will likely be skating tomorrow night in Los Angeles with Sean Couturier, one of the Flyers’ best possession forwards, and Jakub Voracek, who’s only a year removed from a point-per-game season.

Those linemates will inevitably change at some point, but even then there will be talent around Konecny. Even within the top-6, he’ll likely spend time with Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, and Wayne Simmonds, all guys who have shown that they can score in the NHL to varying degrees. Unless a prolonged Konecny slump drops him out of the top-6 and onto a line with the likes of Dale Weise or Nick Cousins, it’s easy to imagine him playing alongside the big guns for just about the entire year.

Aim high, just maybe not too high

So what should we expect from Travis Konecny this year? On the one hand, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that it’s pretty tough for 19-year olds who are only a year removed from their draft to come in and make an immediate impact on the scoresheet. The NHL isn’t the toughest league in the world for nothing, and to make that jump is something that not many guys can do successfully, at least not right away.

But there’s strong reason to believe Konecny will succeed. For one, even as rookies coming right into the league, guys with his track record of scoring in juniors usually score in the NHL at a pretty respectable rate. And the Flyers seem ready to set him up for success, as long as they’re giving him power play time and playing him with strong offensive players like it currently appears they will.

Basically, Konecny’s not your average rookie, and if his size doesn’t prove to be a disadvantage and he can roll with the physical punishment he’ll take in the NHL, there’s a lot of reason to believe he can have one of the more successful draft +2 rookie seasons that we’ve seen in recent years.

When I initially submitted my (admittedly unscientific) response to our Konecny survey last week, I said that I thought he’d tally 14 goals and 22 assists in 74 games. After looking through these numbers a bit, I’m actually going to bump that (still somewhat unscientific) projection up, to the tune of 16 goals and 24 assists in 74 games or a mark of 0.54 points per game. That’d be a damn fine rookie season, and one that could absolutely give Flyers fans confidence that Konecny can turn into something really special with a bit more time.

Still, as a community, our initial estimate of 0.65 points per game may be a bit optimistic. Reaching back a bit further, the only draft +2 rookies to reach or exceed that mark since the 2004-05 lockout were Huberdeau, Peter Mueller (0.67), and then some schmoes named Jonathan Toews (0.84), Nicklas Backstrom (0.84), Anze Kopitar (0.85), and Alex Ovechkin (1.31) far exceeded it. A lot would need to go right for Konecny to get to that mark in his first season, and if he does, we should get very, very excited.

But all in all, even if they should maybe expect a bit less than they currently do, Flyers fans aren’t wrong to expect a lot from their exciting rookie forward. Konecny having made the team is one of the biggest things fueling this fanbase’s glowing optimism towards this season, and it should to be really fun to watch the beginning of what’s hopefully a long and successful career.