January 27, 2014
Typically, there are two common patterns with the more precocious true freshmen in major junior hockey. Some break out after Christmas following an espresso shot of confidence at the world under-17 challenge, some fight to maintain their first-half level as fatigue accumulates from night after night of playing against players three and four years their elder. Travis Konecny, the OHL's first overall pick who skates for the Ottawa 67's, falls into neither, aside from being compromised by a flu bug for part of a recent homestand.
Connor McDavid has his hype train for the 2015 NHL draft and the U.S. national team development program's Jack Eichel has his, for manifestly evident reasons. There might be a more of, to quote the TV commercial, you-have-to-get-it-to-get-it phenomena with Konecny, who is leading all OHL yearlings with 48 points over 43 games on a young 67's team that is on the playoff bubble. It's not easy to make a case based on hard numbers, since the OHL has had 16-year-olds come along and score at a similar rate; Alex Galchenyuk counted 80 points in 63 games as a 16-year-old in 2010-11 with the Sarnia Sting, when he was also on a ninth-place team, albeit one that had Nail Yakupov.
Yet, as previously stated, Konecny keeps delivering bits of brilliance, ticking off more items on the checklist. This past weekend, there was the pass that bisected four Niagara IceDogs penalty killers — on the OHL's smallest ice surface where it should be easier to clog the lanes — for a third-period tying goal in Ottawa's eventual win.
Konecny also had two beauty goals during a near-comeback in a loss to Mississauga.
One had to parse it carefully when describing the talent around Konecny since, after all, these are young men with feelings and all that. The centre certainly has good chemistry with the wings he usually skates with, 19-year-old Erik Bradford and overage Ryan Van Stralen, which shouldn't be overlooked. At the same time, Ottawa is four points out of a playoff berth and doesn't have a NHL draft pick on the roster after moving Colorado Avalanche sixth-rounder Joseph Blandisi to Barrie a month ago. It's also unlikely to have a forward selected this summer, although undersized 17-year-old Dante Salituro is an intriguing 2015-eligible.
The point is Konecny is in some very select company, not at the top, but in a select group. He's also done so without being surrounded by a higher-end prospect. Here's a list of the true freshmen who have averaged a point per game in the OHL across the past decade.
|Team||Season||PTS||GM||More notable teammates||Team finish|
|Steven Stamkos||Sting||06-07||92||63||Harrison Reed, Ryan Wilson||9th|
|Taylor Hall||Spitfires||07-08||84||63||Josh Bailey, Adam Henrique||4th|
|Alex Galchenyuk||Sting||10-11||83||68||Nail Yakupov, Brett Ritchie||16th|
|John Tavares^||Generals||05-06||77||65||Cal Clutterbuck, Brett MacLean||19th|
|Travis Konecny||67's||13-14||48||43||Joseph Blandisi*||17th|
|Tyler Seguin||Whalers||08-09||67||61||Chris Terry||8th|
|Matt Puempel||Petes||09-10||64||59||Ryan Spooner, Zack Kassian*||14th|
|Connor McDavid^||Otters||12-13||66||63||Connor Brown, Adam Pelech||19th|
|Ryan Ellis||Spitfires||07-08||63||63||Josh Bailey, Adam Henrique||4th|
|*traded during season|
|^ exceptional player|
It is tough to match the Stamkos-Tavares-Hall-Galchenyuk murderer's row, and McDavid is on an entirely separate plane. Konecny would appear to be right there at the head of the second pack. Think of the ballyhooed top 1 per cent of OHLers who didn't average a point per game as rookies, including Sam Bennett, Central Scouting's top-ranked domestic skater. There's a stats-based argument Konecny is elite; sorry it's not a 140 characters or less argument.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (videos: Rogers Television, TV Cogeco Ontario).