Travis Konecny took the OHL by storm last season, winning the that league’s Rookie of the Year award based upon a stellar 63-game, 70-point debut. In his sophomore season, the Clachan, ON-born center is hoping to make an equally big splash at the 2015 NHL Draft in June.
Konecny’s name is often heard in conjunction with the McDavids, Eichels, and Marners of the hockey world — and he was recently given an “A” grade in NHL Central Scouting’s “Ones to Watch” list.
It’s an honor he takes seriously — and it’s a group that he’s got his eyes on.
“It’s pretty special, there are a lot of talented players in that list. For me it’s just about trying to focus on what I’m doing. I know they’re going to be pushing me by working hard and doing what they can. I keep an eye on them and I watch them through highlights. It’s good to see that they’re all doing well,” he said. “I guess for me it’s worrying about myself and my own team. I don’t try to compare myself to other players around the league, because we’re all different, we all do different things, and we all bring different things to the table.”
That said, Konecny has been talked about for a long time, well before being the first overall selection in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection.
“[Being drafted] has been a dream since I first started skating — back when I was three years old,” he said. “[Keeping focus] is definitely a challenge for someone like me coming up, but I’m sure every kid goes through it each year.”
He said he’s looking at this draft year as a learning opportunity that will help him in his future professional career.
“After this year, you have experience and you learn from this year about how to put things behind you. In the future it’s going to be an important game,” he said. “This year, for me, it’s about worrying about my team and my game and forgetting about what’s going to happen in June. I just want to enjoy this season and let it all play out.”
Ottawa 67’s head coach Jeff Brown said that he’s been impressed with the way that Konecny has handled all the attention and pressure.
“I think he’s handled it great. He’s a little down on himself because he’s had so many opportunities to score and he hasn’t been, so I think he’s squeezing the stick a little hard,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for more effort from him, leadership from him. He’s a true competitor. He’ll break out of it and start scoring in bunches, for sure.”
Brown said he wants Konecny to remember that, despite the pressure, the game still should be fun.
“Just to relax and play. It’s still a game — it doesn’t matter if it’s the seventh game of the Stanley Cup,” Brown added. “Certainly there’s pressure on him — more pressure than normal, but you’ve just got to relax and have to go out and enjoy the game. Good things will happen to good people.”
In 11 games so far this season, Konecny has only scored one goal while adding six assists. He also needs to get his game back to the basics, Brown said.
“I think he needs to simplify his game. I think he’s trying to play too fancy a game and that’s not his game,” he said. “His game is speed and shooting. That’s what he brings. When he starts trying to toe-drag and dangle the puck — which he can do, I mean I’m not saying he can’t — but he’s got exceptional speed and a great shot. That’s what he’s got to focus on.”
Konecny has been able to glean some knowledge and experience from those fairly close to him to help him through the pressure of this draft-eligible year.
“For myself, I room with [Jacob] Middleton [drafted in 2014 by Los Angeles] so I’ve talked to him about his experience,” he said. “Connor Graham was at camp and he helped me see what it was all about and I kind of have an idea how hard it is to get to the next level.”
He’s also turned to an on-ice adversary — but fellow London, ON-area friend and second cousin– during the summer.
“For me to be able to work out with Bo Horvat this summer, he’s been a role model for me and for him to show me how hard he works in the summer — and now he’s stuck up in Vancouver so I’m happy for him,” he said.
While Horvat’s in Vancouver for injury rehab, Konecny recently had an injury scare when he was hit by Gianluca Curcuruto, which earned the latter a 12-game suspension. He passed the concussion protocol and was able to return to action.
“We followed protocol and the normal procedures you have to do these days and it’s a serious matter. It’s my head, so you definitely want to take it seriously,” he said. “I made sure, as I was going through the process, that I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t feel right. I know 100 per cent that I feel comfortable coming back.”
As the year progresses, Konecny said he wants to really hone in on the minutiae of his game.
“Little things, I think. I think for me it’s just little parts of my game. Find a way to make that extra stop in the defensive zone, or those extra two strides that someone won’t take that I will,” he said. “For me it’s those little things that I need to critique to improve my game.
“Being in the gym in the summers and even though the winter, during the season, I have to stay fit. I just need to do what I can on those things I can control and the rest will take care of itself.”
Fittingly, for someone who’s home base is the nation’s capital, Konecny looks to “Captain Canada” for inspiration.
“I try to model my game after Jonathan Toews. I know he’s a hard worker. I just like the way he plays — he wins all the little battles,” he said. “He’s a two-way player and can bring a lot of offense to the table. That’s how I want to play and he’s who I look up to.”
And to have a Toewsian performance at the World Juniors one day? “Hopefully, that’d be pretty cool.”
Growing up in southwestern Ontario, you’re generally a Leafs fan or a Red Wings’ fan. Family led him one way, but as he grew up, talent took him another.
“I was Leafs growing up. At my house all my family were Leafs fans, but as I grew up I kind of moved towards Edmonton,” he said. “I’m a fan of the young talent they have there and I was rooting for them to pull through, they’re going to be a good team.”
What about the other squad in the nation’s capital? The Senators? He laughed.
“I don’t know if I’m a fan… I go to their games. It’s free education to go watch them.”
Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard