It may be cold and snowy in Canada’s capital, but the path to the Sunshine State looks like it’s going to run from small-town Ontario, through Ottawa, to the podium at the 2015 NHL Draft in Sunrise, FL.
And while Connor McDavid is right now the presumed favourite to hear his name called first overall, the Ottawa 67’s Travis Konecny is doing his best to ensure that he’s firmly entrenched in the conversation.
He’s already keeping some pretty heady company. As reported initially by Yahoo! Sports’ Neate Seager, Konecny is rapidly ascending the list of most-successful 16-year-old scorers in the OHL, already close to surpassing even the aforementioned McDavid.
“That’s a pretty neat compliment that you gave me there. I never really thought of it that way,” Konecny said, appearing genuinely shocked. “I’ve just been thinking things are happening the way they are during my season. I really haven’t thought it that way before.”
Atop the list is Steven Stamkos, who scored 92 points as a 16-year-old. He’s followed by Taylor Hall (84), Alex Galchenyuk (83), and John Tavares (77). With 62 points already in 51 games, Konecny is within one good game of surpassing Tyler Seguin (67), McDavid (66), and Matt Puempel (64).
“Those guys are amazing players and it’s an honour just to be mentioned in the same sentence as those guys,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll go that far yet, but we’ll see.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Konecny’s racked up 21 goals and 43 assists so far. In his final year with the minor midget Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs last season, Konecny scored 53 goals and added 61 assists in 54 games, which led to the highly-touted forward being taken first overall in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection.
What did come as a surprise to some was that Konecny’s selection came before Sean Day, only the fourth player to receive exceptional player status — and the first to not be selected first overall (Tavares, Aaron Ekblad and McDavid were the others). Konecny said that hasn’t added any pressure on him to perform.
“I didn’t really think about it. Sean Day’s been an amazing player and he deserves to be in the league. I guess the situation was that one team needed a forward and one team needed a D,” Konecny explained. “I didn’t really think about it that way. I’m just glad that it worked out this way.”
Though expected to be the catalyst for the 67’s rebuild, Konecny said he’s not feeling the weight of the world on his young shoulders.
“I didn’t really set too many expectations,” he said. “I just came into the league and I expect myself to work hard. I’ll let the rest take care of itself.”
The biggest change, he said, has been the caliber and size of his opponents. “It’s the speed and strength. It’s a lot faster in this league and you’re playing against 20-year-old guys,” he said. “Obviously, that’s a little different. You just have to keep doing what you do best and you’ll get used to the league eventually.”
Listed at 5’10” and 166 pounds, Konecny still has plenty of room to grow. And he’s not going to take on some of the bigger players head on, so he said he’s learned to use his head as much as his body.
“You have to be aware. You have to be smart and you have to make smart decisions,” Konecny said. “The guys who have experience in this league, if you make a turnover or just make a simple mistake, most times it’s going to end up in the back of your net.”
The 67's currently hold the last playoff spot in the OHL's Eastern Conference, but are in a fight with three other teams (Mississauga, Niagara, and Belleville) to retain that position. The Steelheads are in seventh with 48 points, while Ottawa is tied in points with the Steelheads but has one less win. Niagara is two points behind Mississauga and Ottawa, while Belleville is only four points behind the Steelheads and 67's.
Despite his youth and the stakes at hand, Konecny is seeing a tremendous amount of ice time in all situations — something rare for most 16-year-old players in the league.
“I know I’m really fortunate. The coaching staff has given me a really great opportunity to play and gain experience for next year,” he said. “I’m not sure about other players in the league, but I know I’m very fortunate.”
Though Canada’s nation’s capital only has approximately 890,000 residents, it’s miles away — both literally and figuratively — from the small-town environment in which Konecny grew up. He was raised in Clachan, ON. Clachan is a Scottish Gaelic word that means a small village lacking a Church, post office, or other federal building. And that was a bigger ‘city’ than where he got his start.
“I actually started out in a small town called Duart and actually moved up to Clachan,” he said. “Those are two small towns, like two neighbours and that’s about it.
“Moving to the capital, it’s been awesome and it’s been incredible so far. It doesn’t even feel like a big city — it kind of feels like a small town around there. It’s been fun.”
Konecny also got to play in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge tournament in Cape Breton, NS, where he was part of the fifth-place Ontario squad. That taste of international play has him hoping for more.
“That was a great experience for me and it was an honour for me to play on that team,” he said. “Obviously we wanted a better outcome than we had, but it was a great learning experience for us all, and to look forward to other Team Canada events.
“I stay in contact with some of the guys and it’s great to see them around the league when you come back. It was a fun experience.”
Although his draft is still over a year away, and a spot on a World Junior roster may be a couple of years out still, Konecny is already focused on doing the little things he needs to get there.
“There’s just little things I need to work on. There’s something that the coaches have started to tell me this year is just to make sure that both ends of the ice are played equally,” he said. “I obviously want to gain some weight this summer and get a little bit stronger. And also work on my shot and skating.”
Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard