TORONTO — The thought circled Travis Konecny‘s mind as he skated around the Air Canada Centre ice Friday.
I could have been a Toronto Maple Leaf.
The Maple Leafs had interviewed the talented prospect from London, Ont., twice prior to the 2015 Draft, inviting the Sarnia Sting standout to Toronto for a meeting and speaking with him again at the Combine.
So when the Leafs were on the clock at No. 24 of Round 1, and Konecny, the 14th-ranked North American skater, was still on the board, he pictured himself pulling a blue-and-white sweater over his head onstage.
“It’s kinda funny how it ended up, being my brother’s favourite team and the pick was there. It was definitely in my mind that I might get picked [by Toronto],” Konecny says.
“I was seeing myself fall in the draft; Toronto was right there. It was definitely in my mind at that point, then they traded the pick and now I’m here.”
Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall moved up five spots to secure the kid with the “heart of a lion,” handing Toronto a pair of second-rounders — the 29th and 61st overall selections — and couldn’t be happier with how the deal has turned out thus far.
Not unlike Maple Leafs first-rounder Mitchell Marner, an OHL rival and Team Canada teammate of Konecny’s, the winger earned a spot in training camp as a 19-year-old and has excelled early.
“I’m using my speed all over the ice. Part of the way I play, I push defencemen, I push forwards out of their position by using my speed, and it kinda opens up the game,” Konecny says.
“I try to play the hard game. I try to get under their skin.”
Gelling quick with Sean Couturier and a rejuvenated Jakub Voracek, Konecny already has three goals and six assists through 14 games.
“We’re always talking off the ice, on the bench and in the locker room about how we can get better as a line,” says Voracek. “He’s a talented player—fast, quick.
“He’s very competitive, and for his size, he plays a hard game. He’s throwing hits out there. I saw him crush a few guys already.”
The teenager admits he’s gotten starstruck looking at some of the elite defence pairs his line draws, but figures he’ll get over that soon. Striking stars is a good way to get over being starstruck.
Established veterans such as Steve Ott…
Travis Konecny welcomes Steve Ott to the NHL pic.twitter.com/LnLXP1HL0z
— Jordie (@BarstoolJordie) November 9, 2016
… Alexander Radulov…
Konecny knocking Radulov back to Siberia is my favorite play of the season so far https://t.co/dvaOkAPkrm
— Jordie (@BarstoolJordie) November 6, 2016
… and Andrei Markov have all been on the business of Konecny take-downs:
Konecny takes down Markov in front of the net. pic.twitter.com/HbTj9VYAHJ
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) November 6, 2016
Konecny is only 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, but he hit the gym five days a week all summer to build NHL muscle, determined to give the Flyers no choice but to get younger.
He styles his skill-meets-sandpaper game after little big men like Tyler Johnson and Brendan Gallagher. And he says the size of Voracek and Couturier help create space for him. All Konecny has to do is weasel his way near the crease and bang in rebounds.
“They’re not afraid to play. They want to impact the game,” Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol says of Konecny and fellow teenage rookie, defenceman Ivan Provorov.
“One hundred per cent those guys came to camp and earned their spots. That was our mentality all the way along. Any player coming into camp, especially the young ones, had to earn their spot.”
Teammate Wayne Simmonds says just making the NHL as a teenager is a special accomplishment, but to see a small, 100-point OHL forward jump from the juniors to knocking NHLers on their ass is something else.
“He’s a little Tasmanian devil out there. I’ve seen him throw some devastating hits over the last 12 games. It’s really nice to see a guy with his skill set play that way,” Simmonds says. “He may not be the biggest guy, but he plays like’s 6-foot-4.”
Despite growing up two hours away from Toronto and arranging 10 tickets for friends and family Friday night at ACC, Konecny was “a bandwagon guy”; he didn’t grow up a Leafs fan like his brother. So he wasn’t bummed when the Leafs passed on him.
In exchange for missing out on Konecny as part of its 2015 prospect stockpiling strategy, Toronto then flipped Pick 29 to Columbus for picks 34 and 68.
The Leafs took defenceman Travis Dermott (five points in eight games with the AHL Marlies this season) at No. 34; right wing Jeremy Bracco (27 points through 14 games with the OHL Kitchener Rangers) at 61; and left wing Martiņs Dzierkals (24 points in 17 games with the QMJHL Rouyn-Noranda Huskies) at 68.
The Flyers have an enthusiastic top-six impact forward they intend to keep all year, while Toronto has three promising maybes — none of whom have reached Konecny’s level, yet.