April 03, 2014
For what it is worth, Travis Konecny got more points in the OHL rookie of the year vote than his contemporary Connor McDavid did last season.
So the die is cast for the 2015 NHL draft, except no, not really, since each highly touted 17-year-old centre has manifold merits and both are on course to have bountiful pro careers. The rub is Konecny, who was named the winner of the Emms Family Award on Thursday, appreciates being in the same league as the Erie Otters phenom who's at the head of his draft class. It helps the Ottawa 67's centre get an idea of what bar he's trying to reach.
"I love having him [McDavid] in our league, he's a great player and that gives me something to push towards," said Konecny, who received 91 of 95 possible points in the balloting, exceeding the 85 McDavid — albeit as a 15-year-old — received in 2012-13. "I love to watch him and see what he does and use that as my motivation to push harder.
"Moving into next year, I just think I want to get stronger and give myself more room on the ice, and then work on little things like D [defensive] zone," the Clachan, Ont., native added. "I don't like to stress myself out too much so I'll just work on one at a time."
Konecny won the rookie scoring race with 70 points, 11 more than any other newcomer. While the 67's play in the Eastern Conference, the weaker half of the OHL, his point total was also the highest for an Ottawa rookie since 1989. Since that time, offensive talents such as Logan Couture, Sean Monahan and Tyler Toffoli have come up with the Barberpoles.
On a near nightly basis, Konecny showed off next-level hands and speed, while often being engaged physically at all of 5-foot-10 and 166 pounds. Spending his previous three school years at PEAC, a hockey academy in London, gave him a leg up at avoiding the trials and tribulations often peculiar to 16-year-olds who are asked to take a leading role with a younger team.
"His first game [against Belleville in September] I think he pulled one of the 20-year-old defenceman inside-out and had a really good game, with a couple points," said 67's coach-GM Chris Byrne, who took Konency No. 1 overall in the 2013 OHL priority selection. "I think I said we knew he would be a good player and would score, it would be be a matter of when he would be comfortable with the league — a month, two months, halfway through the year. One of our first shifts in training camp he kind of ran over a big older player, a 20-year-old player as well, and I kind of thought he was pretty comfortable on the ice in all situations.
"Some of the training he's had before he got to our team was really strong and high-level," Byrne added. "Part of the reason for his success was how prepared he was. He didn't have too many peaks and valleys during the season. The second half, he actually got stronger. Many times you see young players tail off after Christmas. It's a tougher league after Christmas. The older players kind of shine a lot more than the younger guys. It's a compliment to him that he had a better second half than the first half."
The 67's lost their final three games of the season, causing it to missing the playoffs by two points and end up with the No. 3 overall selection in Saturday's OHL priority selection draft. Still, Konecny got a taste of trying to carry his club. After missing the playoffs two years in a row while playing at the Canadian Tire Centre due to arena refurbishments, Ottawa anticipates having a better outlook in September when it moves back to TD Place (formerly the Ottawa Civic Centre).
"The little playoff push we had going was fun, even though it didn't end the way we wanted to," Konecny said.
"All the guys on my team were great with helping with the transition, especially my roommates Jonathan Duchesne and Jacob Middleton," he said. "But I have to say the credit goes to everyone."
London Knights forward Mitchell Marner (37 points) was the runner-up. Barrie Colts forward Andrew Mangiapane, who broke into the league after being spotted at a free-agent camp, finished third with 21.
Konecny is available to join Team Canada for the upcoming IIHF world under-18 championship. Hockey Canada had three underage players on its 2013 gold medal-winning team, including McDavid and top 2014 draft prospect Sam Bennett.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.