Most of the intrigue in the Flyers’ training camp surrounds the rookies who are trying to earn roster spots. Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny can relate. A year ago, they were on the hot seat as they tried to make an impression and stay with the team.
Provorov, who was the Flyers’ best defenseman last season, and Konecny are now attempting to avoid the dreaded (albeit overrated) sophomore jinx and build off their strong rookie years.
“I’m not trying to set expectations because the second year, for most guys, is a harder year. You come in expecting to do more — and then you’re gripping the stick, and if things start going south, then you start worrying,” said Konecny, a swift-moving winger who had 11 goals and 28 points as a rookie. “So I’m just concentrating on working hard, and when the opportunities present themselves, I have to take advantage. There’s no excuses this year. I have to bear down a little bit more. My goal is, wherever I’m placed in the lineup, I want to stick there and I want to play my position right and try to be more consistent.”
Translation: Konecny, 20, doesn’t want to give coach Dave Hakstol any reasons to bench him, as he did last season.
Shayne Gostisbehere also found a seat in the press box a few times last season as he regressed dramatically in his sophomore year, scoring just seven goals after netting 17 as a rookie.
Most of the Flyers’ veterans, however, made significant strides from their first to second seasons. Jake Voracek (then with Columbus) and Wayne Simmonds (then with Los Angeles) both went from nine goals to 16 in that span. Claude Giroux went from 16 goals and 47 points in his first full season to 25 goals and 76 points in his second year. Val Filppula’s second-year totals (19 goals, 37 points) were much higher than his rookie year (10 goals, 17 points) with Detroit.
Based on his preseason so far, Konecny — who has looked more confident and assertive in the exhibition games — figures to make marked improvement, too, and play in the top six. He has been used on different sides of the ice in camp, and said he doesn’t have any preference.
“I came in as a right winger, and then I played all last year as a left winger,” he said, “so I’m good at both spots now.”
Konecny said he was focusing more on “bearing down on my opportunities. I get a lot of chances with my speed. I catch a lot of guys off-guard and put myself in Grade-A scoring chances, so I’m just working on bearing down a little more around the net and not missing those opportunities. I probably missed 10 good opportunities last year.”
Provorov, who had six goals and 30 points as a rookie and has looked more offensive-minded in recent preseason games, said he feels “way more comfortable at camp this year. I mean, I had a really good summer and I think I’m a better player overall than last year. I’m bigger, stronger, faster. I’m going to try to produce more points and just play the same defense.”
Now 20, Provorov didn’t want to talk about how he trained in Russia in the offseason. Flyers prospect German Rubtsov was among his training partners. So was right winger Andrei Svechnikov, who is projected to be a high selection in the 2018 draft.
“It’s a secret,” he said matter-of-factly about his training methods. “I’ll just say I put lots of hours in. I’m not a fan of discussing summer training, so I’ll just keep it to myself. Just know I did a lot of well-rounded training. On the ice, off the ice.”
Provorov thinks his offensive production will rise. Is a 20-goal season in his future?
“If it happens it happens,” he said. “I mean, I scored 20 goals in junior. I think it’s going to happen eventually. Hopefully, I’ll get there, but I’m not going to go out of my way and cost defensive mistakes to try to score goals. If the opportunity is right, I will join the rush and try to score. But you have to use your head and know when to join the rush and when to back off.”
Provorov likes the expected injection of youth in the lineup.
“It was disappointing last season not to make the playoffs,” he said. “It was kind of an up-and-down year. We had some really good stretches and then some not-so-good stretches. This year we’re trying to be more consistent. We’re going to be much faster and more tenacious on the puck.”
The Flyers’ Great Retooling Process is underway, and second-year players Provorov and Konecny, both wisely selected in the first round of the 2015 draft, are among the key figures in the renaissance.
The sophomore jinx be damned.