It’s Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Your team is down a goal and you have an offensive zone faceoff with the goalie pulled, just one shift to save your season. Who do you put out there?
If I had to choose one guy from the 2015 NHL Draft that I’d put out there first with no reservations, it wouldn’t be Connor McDavid. It wouldn’t be Jack Eichel, or Mitch Marner. No, it would be Ottawa 67's forward Travis Konecny. Despite his small stature (not even 5’10"), Konecny is absolutely fearless and plays with the kind of urgency and motor that no one else in this draft can match. In fact, I’d almost say that Konecny doesn’t know how to downshift; he gives that clichéd 110% effort 110% of the time. Beyond that he’s extremely talented as well, which makes him a very attractive draft prospect.
The first time I saw Konecny play was at the U17 Championships a year and a half ago. He played on a fairly dominant Team Ontario that also featured the likes of Marner and Dylan Strome, but his play immediately grabbed my attention. To start, Konecny is a wonderful skater, with the kind of speed, agility, and elusiveness that a player of his size must have to be successful at the next level. His hockey IQ is strong, although it would not be outlandish to suggest that he’s one of those players whose hands and feet move faster than he himself can process. That’s not a dig at his smarts, but rather a compliment to his skating and puck-handling, which he can do at a high level even when at top speed. Konecny is a well-rounded offensive package who is equally strong in terms of playmaking and goalscoring. His lethal shot is one of his biggest strengths and can beat netminders from anywhere on the ice. He also has the authority and the confidence to shoot where some players might choose to pass even if shooting is clearly the better option. He has good vision and playmaking ability as well, and both options can be utilized as he sees fit.
Defensively, Konecny is no positional stalwart, and as with many top prospects like Strome, can be prone to blowing the zone a little early. But to make up for that, Konecny is a relentless back-checker and puck-hound. In fact, one of the most immediate observations when watching him is that he does try to be too fancy sometimes and turns over the puck. However, he will work as hard as physically possible to regain that puck and uses quick stickwork to recover it.
Konecny is also a surprisingly physical player. He’s small, but put in a very strong performance at the NHL Combine earlier this month and showed that his strength. He’s willing to throw his weight around and put that on display for those who watched his excellent performance at the Top Prospects Game, where he played on a line with fellow top prospects McDavid and Timo Meier and arguably outshone them both. At the time, Konecny had been having a disappointing season after a dominant rookie campaign which saw him named the OHL Rookie of the Year and captain of the 67's, but he only improved from there.
What do the scouts say?
OHL Scout Brock Otten had this to say about Konecny:
Konecny is a hard prospect not to like. He plays the game the right way and is a very well rounded player. At the beginning of the year, he struggled to find his game, and seemed to be putting too much pressure on himself. His speed is electric, but the creativity was being stifled because he was forcing plays that weren't there. Towards the New Year (including a fantastic showing at the CHL Top Prospect's Game), the light really seemed to turn on for him. He's at his best using his speed in short bursts offensively, dictating pace by stopping and starting quickly. He's also at his best when he's engaging physically, throwing big hits and agitating on the forecheck. Konecny also possesses a fantastic wrist shot with a pro calibre release. As the captain of the 67's, it goes without saying that his leadership qualities are also significant. I think that, really, the only strike against Konecny is size. At 5'10, Konecny plays a much larger game (and needs to play that way to be successful). And he's run into some injury issues, including a shoulder injury that kept him out late in the year and in the playoffs. So there are durability questions. In a lot of ways, it resembles Robby Fabbri's situation last year. Come draft day, watching where Konecny goes is one of the things I'm most curious about.
Konecny is the type of player destined to be a fan favorite due to his energy and gritzz, but he has a lot of attractive offensive and defensive tools that make him more than just a character pick. He is another natural center, but he's a player that will almost certain be a full-time right winger if and when he makes the show. Konecny has been ranked almost everywhere in the first round, but the consensus says somewhere in the early-mid teens is probably where he goes.
What do the stats say?
Konecny's draft-1 season was truly remarkable, beating out fellow CHL forwards like Barzal, Strome, and Marner in terms of PPG. Konecny had a very disappointing start to the season which saw him score less than a point per game in the first half, as charted by Todd Cordell in a special project. Konecny's PPG rose from .87 in the first half of the season to 1.4 points per game in the second half, which was the largest increase for any draft eligible forward. This bodes well for Konecny moving forward. His 1.13 points per game over the full season is not particularly impressive for an OHL forward, and especially a 5'9.5" forward, but many feel there are enough mitigating factors, such as team strength and injuries, that that production is not totally indicative of the kind of talent and upside that Konecny has. Notably, Konency had 10 points in 5 games for the 67's in the playoffs this spring before being injured and missing their last game.
Should the Sharks be interested?
If the Sharks are dead-set on Konecny, they should try to trade down a couple of spots to 11 or 12. Konecny is an excellent prospect but the likelihood of him going in the top-10 is very unlikely, so they should take the opportunity to recoup another pick. There are a few factors that might scare teams off Konecny and the largest would be his injury history. For starters, Konecny played through a concussion for a significant part of the start of the season, and later on he would separate his shoulder, which would then be re-injured from a hit in the playoffs, preventing him from playing at the U18 World Championship. The reason these injuries are so significant is because of his size and play-style. Konency's small stature cannot be overlooked, as well has his tendency to be physically aggressive. One wonders if Konecny can both maintain his style of play at the NHL level against men rather than teenagers and stay healthy himself.
Konecny is probably a reach for the Sharks and it would be very surprising to see the Sharks select him at 9th overall, never mind trading down for him. But if that does happen, Konecny is an absolutely dynamic player and is worth getting excited about. Not many players can finesse the puck at high speeds as well as he can.
What does he look like in action?
Konecny's one-on-one skill and high-tempo style is very fun to watch, and can be seen in this highlight reel: