Travis Konecny, the Flyers’ kinetic right winger, says reaching the NHL and, now, becoming a first-time NHL All-Star, have been a family thing.
“The main credit goes to my parents, my brother, and my grandparents for all being there for me,” he said the other day. “It sounds like a cliche, but the rides to practice and all the dedication they put in, you probably don’t realize how hard it is until you have your own kids. But I’m definitely thankful for that.”
Konecny, 22, who leads the Flyers with 17 goals and is tied with Sean Couturier for most points (43) on the team, will play for the Metropolitan Division in the three-on-three All-Star tournament Saturday in St. Louis. The speedy winger is having a career season and is on pace for 28 goals and 71 points, which would both be personal bests.
“You always want to take the next step,” he said. “You want to evolve and become a better pro. I did want to take another step and become a bigger part of the team, trying to get out of that rookie mold that you’re stuck in for a few years. That’s kind of been my focus, just trying to be a reliable guy and leader.”
Konecny is known as one of the team’s most annoying chirpers and instigators as he tries to get under opponents’ skin, and his expletive-filled rant in which he called Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin a “f—ing nerd” in the Stadium Series game last season became a video that went viral.
He said he has tried to be a bit quieter on the ice this season.
That hasn’t always happened, but just the fact he is focusing more on his play is significant.
Maybe it’s a sign of maturity. Maybe it’s because he realizes he is more valuable on the ice than in the penalty box. Maybe the big contract he signed during training camp (six years, $33 million) has made him realize just how important he is to the team.
The contract, which carries an annual $5.5 million cap hit, has removed some pressure that he felt, Konecny acknowledged. He is playing with more poise and more confidence.
“I think it definitely takes a little bit of weight off your chest and off your mind,” he said. “Maybe you’re not gripping the stick as much … and not worried about proving yourself. It’s hard to say. I’m just trying to play the right way and do the little things and help my team win. It’s paying off.”
When you sign a big contract, left winger James van Riemsdyk said, “you feel more set and comfortable in your skin. He’s taken in a bigger role this year and done a really good job.”
In addition to his increased offensive production, Konecny has also earned coach Alain Vigneault’s trust defensively, playing late in games when the Flyers hold a one-goal lead.
Konecny, a native of London, Ontario, has “always had that confident swagger,” van Riemsdyk said. “He has some experience now.”
And, now, the fourth-year pro is recognized as one of the NHL’s best players.
Making his first All-Star appearance, Konecny said, is pretty special.
"It’s definitely something I never thought of. I was more or less worried about making the NHL someday. Trying to get yourself on the roster and earning a spot and staying there. After that, you’re kind of where you want to be and it’s what you’ve dreamed of. I never really thought about the All-Star Game until I was selected.”
Ron Hextall, then the Flyers’ general manager, moved up five spots in the 2015 draft by trading a first-round pick (29th overall) and a second-rounder to Toronto. That enabled him to draft the player he wanted, Konecny, with the 24th overall pick in the first round. (Hextall selected defenseman Ivan Provorov at No. 7 overall in the same draft.)
Konecny had a modest 11-goal, 28-point season as a rookie in 2016-17, making the team when he was just 19. That was followed by consecutive years of 24 goals, including a career-high 49 points last season.
In the past, his defensive play didn’t match his electric offense. He has made marked improvement, however, on the defensive side this season.
“I know I was definitely trying to find that two-way game, a reliable game,” said the player known as TK. “I think this summer I really took it upon myself to come back this year and play the right way.”
Lately, he has been on a line with van Riemsdyk (known as JVR) and center Claude Giroux (known as G), forming the Alphabet Soup Line. Konecny and van Riemsdyk have quickly developed chemistry.
“We kind of complement each other because JVR is a guy who loves to be around the net and I’m a guy who loves to have control of the puck in the zone,” Konecny said, “… so it kind of works out.”