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Rookies Provorov, Konecny provide highlight to Flyers' season

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Winnipeg right winger Patrik Laine. Toronto forwards Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski. Carolina right winger Sebastian Aho. Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray.

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Winnipeg right winger Patrik Laine. Toronto forwards Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski. Carolina right winger Sebastian Aho. Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray.

The NHL has produced numerous outstanding rookies this season, and two Flyers have enriched the crop.

Defenseman Ivan Provorov and winger Travis Konecny won't win the rookie-of-the-year award and won't come as close as Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere did last season, when he finished second.

But the two rookies have shown they belong in the NHL. Provorov looks like a future all-star, and Konecny is just the type of player - fast, elusive, creative - whom the Flyers' stagnant offense needs.

In a season in which most of the Flyers have regressed, the play of their rookies has been a highlight.

"I think both have had productive years," coach Dave Hakstol said the other day. "We've seen the growth in a lot of areas in both of their games, and you really want to see that in a young player's game."

Both are 20 years old and are building blocks for the future.

As the season has progressed, Provorov has clearly become the Flyers' No. 1 defenseman. He plays in all situations, and his ice time has risen dramatically since the beginning of the season.

"That's something that just evolved," Hakstol said. "We had discussions on both of those young guys, as we do each player, as to what their starting point was and potentially what we would be able to add to their responsibilities. There wasn't any real time line involved with Provy in when we might start adding responsibilities. He showed early that he was efficient in five-on-five and he's handled it pretty well."

Entering Saturday's game in Columbus, Provorov had six goals, 22 assists, and a minus-10 rating, and he was leading the Flyers in time on ice - about 22 minutes per game, which has him on track to set a franchise record for rookies.

Konecny, who missed nine late-season games with a leg injury, had 11 goals, 16 assists, and an "even" rating.

"It's been a learning curve for me," Konecny said. "A lot of ups and a lot of downs. There's obviously going to be mistakes in a rookie season, and things you have to learn from. And there's also the highs of when you feel like you have your game."

There are also the games in which you are a healthy scratch.

"It's a humbling league," Konecny said. "As soon as you think you have a grasp on it, it's definitely going to knock you back down a few steps. It's just all about learning."

He has learned he can be creative at this level.

"You start to realize there's more room than you think there is," Konecny said. "A lot of times you get the puck and think a guy's going to be right on you. But the NHL is all about gaps, and sometimes the guy might be pressuring you and he backs off. If you have patience and allow yourself to slow down the game a little bit, it starts to open up. That's what I'm starting to do - holding onto the puck and kind of waiting for my opportunity instead of trying to force something. It can help you make more plays."

The length of the season has been the biggest adjustment, Konecny said.

"I shouldn't say I caught a break that I was injured," Konecny said. "But I had that month of rest where I got to recover a little bit, so I'm actually feeling pretty good right now. Even having that month break, it still wears on me. It's a long year, but at least I know what to expect next year."

Hakstol said there's a "lot of areas for improvement" in both players' games. He didn't mention any specifics, but Provorov needs to reduce his turnovers and Konecny's defense has been inconsistent.

But all in all, the rookies have had successful seasons, making the huge jump from juniors to the NHL.

"When you think of the grind of the NHL schedule, both guys have handled it well," Hakstol said. "Mentally, I like both of their approaches. They've shown they belong here. Now it's a continual day-by-day push to improve and get better."

Despite his small size, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Konecny isn't afraid to throw around his body - even if the opponent is the 6-5, 206-pound Laine or his rugged Winnipeg teammate, 6-5, 260-pound Dustin Byfuglien.

"He's just a big human, and he moves well, too," Konecny said of Byfuglien.

When the Flyers scored a 5-2 win over Winnipeg on Nov. 17, "I think I kind of set a name for myself in their bad books," Konecny said with a smile. "I was giving it to Buff a little bit and Laine a little bit."

Konecny was physical with both players and took a slashing penalty against Laine.

"The whole game, he was trying to get me off my game and get me to take a penalty," Konecny said of Laine.

Next season, the Flyers will likely have three rookies in their lineup. Phantoms defensemen Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim, and Robert Hagg are knocking on the door, and it wouldn't be surprising if two of them were with the Orange and Black. In addition, Oskar Lindblom, 20, who despite playing mostly against older men has dominated Sweden's top league, could nail down a left-wing spot.

Provorov, who is quiet and soft-spoken, was asked if he had any suggestions for the almost-ready players.

"I've learned lots of things," he said. "I think the biggest one is you can't make the most out of every puck possession you have. Sometimes you just have to make the safe play."

Spoken like a rookie - who, for the most part, has played like a veteran.