The expression “worst to first’’ usually applies to sports teams which come in last one year and then win some sort of title the next time around.
In the case of Travis Konecny, it also seems apropos.
The Flyers skilled right wing suffered through the least productive campaign of his career in 2021-22, recording just 16 goals in 79 games.
Fast forward to this season and everything has changed.
Not only has he already registered 14 goals in just 28 games, but he’s also playing a more complete game.
For instance, for the first time in his six-plus seasons in Philadelphia, Konecny is getting some steady time on the penalty kill.
His skating ability and penchant for disrupting other teams’ power-play schemes led to the first shorthanded goal of his career the other night in a 5-3 win over Columbus.
Need more evidence? Several players, including Kevin Hayes, have publicly stated Konecny has been the best position player on the team (goaltender Carter Hart might give him a run for team MVP at the end of the season).
Coach John Tortorella has praised Konecny’s play and his seemingly new-found talent to play within a structure.
Konecny’s career-high for goals is 24 (done three consecutive years between 2017 and 2020). Right now he’s on a pace to easily surpass 30 goals and, if he stays healthy, 35 would appear to be within reach.
“You see how I use him so I trust him,’’ Tortorella said after the Columbus game. “I’m always looking for him. He does some crazy stuff at times. We still need to work on some situational play with him but you have to be careful because he’s a reaction-type player.
“You have to be careful how you coach him because I need to let him go – teach him a couple things along the way but I need to let him go. Because that’s when he’s at his best.’’
It’s almost difficult to fathom Konecny will be scheduled to play his 500th career game before the season ends. It seems like only yesterday he was a 19-year-old fresh-faced kid out of London, Ontario, exciting the Flyers’ fan base with his flashy style right out of the gate.
“He’s a bundle of energy,’’ Tortorella said. “I love that. With the bundle of energy there’s going to be some crazy stuff that happens. I don’t want to over-coach him. When we get to be a team which is competing in big games, playoffs and all that; when we get there hopefully he will lead the way as far as situational play. He’s still a young man (25).’’
Konecny knows the spotlight is on him this season. With Claude Giroux traded, Sean Couturier out until March and Cam Atkinson done for the season, the hub of the offense is clearly centered around Konecny.
And the task of killing penalties has added to his confidencer and repertoire.
“Honestly, the way I’ve been approaching this year, I go to the rink, work hard and that’s kind of what ‘Torts’ wants from us,’’ Konecny said. “Put our heads down and go to work. I guess the bounces are just going for me right now.’’
Konecny recorded two assists in Thursday’s game at Toronto, the first which brought him to the 300-point milestone for his NHL career.
Only 30 other Flyers have achieved that milestone and not many have done it before their 26th birthday.
There were a few trade rumors about Konecny bouncing around during the offseason but that talk has died down now.
That’s what happens when you go from worst to first.