A month ago, Travis Konecny was entering training camp with no job in hand.
The plausibility of being sent back to the junior level for another year of development against fellow teenagers was real.
Tonight, he’s a top-line player with NHL All-Stars Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
Talk about a growth spurt.
When the Flyers host the Arizona Coyotes at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./CSN), the 19-year-old winger and Voracek will join the Flyers’ captain on the team’s No. 1 line for a brand-new look to the 2016-17 season.
“They know all the drills, things like that, they’re definitely experienced,” Konecny said Thursday after morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center. “I’m sitting here a little unsure what to do sometimes. It kind of helps me pick things up and they show me what to do.”
Konecny hasn’t needed too much guidance out of the chute. Among NHL rookies, he’s tied for the lead in assists with five. Last time out, he netted his first career goal to help spur the Flyers’ comeback from three goals down Tuesday night to beat the Sabres, 4-3, in a shootout. Konecny’s marker came in the third period, when Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, with his team trailing 3-0, first debuted the youngster alongside Voracek and Giroux in search of a jolt.
He clearly liked what he watched.
“We needed a spark so that’s why we were trying something a little bit different, a little bit new,” Hakstol said. “I liked that group.”
From the start, Hakstol has shown he’ll be fluid and experimental with his lineups, game by game. When things work, they are likely tried again. Konecny has produced, along with Sean Couturier and Voracek, on the Flyers’ previous second line. The trio has combined for seven goals, 11 assists and 18 points.
Despite the jump, Konecny’s approach stays the same.
“The first thing I thought of this morning when I saw I was on the line was don’t overthink it, don’t change what you’re doing,” he said. “Obviously I was put there because of the way I’ve been playing with my speed and things like that — it’s not to fill a skill role or something like that, it’s just to play hard. I’m not going to change anything in my game, I’m just going to try and help them and create space for them to make their moves.”
Couturier will center Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds on the second line.
Brayden Schenn will stay on the third line.
“Brayden’s five-on-five game is continuing to get back to where we all want it to be,” Hakstol said. “Just keep building with his game.
“You look at it as moving a guy up or a guy down — just trying to find the right fit.
“It’s about finding good combinations and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Captain’s own critic
Giroux leads the NHL with eight assists but is far from pleased.
He’s goalless through seven games and is not fond of his minus-5 rating.
“When you’re on the ice, you obviously want to be a plus player,” Giroux said. “Right now, that’s obviously not the case and one of the main reasons I’m not happy with my play right now.”
Giroux has experienced goal droughts before. He started the 2013-14 campaign without a goal through 15 games, but finished with arguably the second-best season of his career (see story).
“It’s in the back of my mind,” Giroux said. “I was actually wondering when you guys were going to bring it up.”
For Giroux, though, it goes beyond statistics.
“I think the way I played defensively, it could be better,” he said. “Offensively, be a little more creative. Just need to relax a little bit more out there. When guys are relaxed, they’re more creative and enjoy the game a little bit more. I need to go back to having fun.”
He’s looking forward to the fun with his old buddy Voracek.
“It’s a zoo out there with him,” Giroux said with a laugh. “Jake’s playing well right now, he’s holding onto the puck, he’s beating guys one-on-one. You play with a guy like that, usually it’s going to help your game.”
What about the newbie?
“Explosive player, he creates plays and he competes,” Giroux said of Konecny. “He’s hard on himself and I like watching him play, so playing with him, it’s pretty fun, too.”
Weise staying true
Dale Weise returns from a three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Ducks defenseman Korbinian Holzer last week.
Weise, a hard-working, checking-oriented forward, will continue to play his game.
“I’ve been suspended before,” he said. “Hopefully this is my last one but you never know. This doesn’t really change the way I play. You’ve got to go out there and be physical and finish checks — that’s just part of the game.”
Leier returned to Phantoms
Forward Taylor Leier on Thursday was loaned back to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley after being recalled to the Flyers for one game in which he was a healthy scratch.
F: Travis Konecny-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek
Matt Read-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Brayden Schenn-Nick Cousins-Dale Weise
Chris VandeVelde-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Roman Lyubimov
D: Andrew MacDonald-Shayne Gostisbehere
Ivan Provorov-Brandon Manning
Mark Streit-Radko Gudas
G: Steve Mason
Injured: Forwards Scott Laughton (knee) and Michael Raffl (abdominal pull), and defenseman Michael Del Zotto (knee).
All three skated Thursday morning and are progressing without set timetables for returns.
Scratches: Forward Boyd Gordon and defenseman Nick Schultz
Updated: 12:07 p.m.
Flyers vs. Coyotes
7 p.m. on CSN
Pregame Live at 6:30
The Flyers (3-3-1) on Thursday night have an optimal opportunity to win back-to-back games for the first time this season when they host the nosediving Coyotes (1-5-0) at the Wells Fargo Center.
Let’s get you ready for the game with five things to know.
1. Nothin' but a G thang
For any of those worried about Claude Giroux, don’t be.
For one, Giroux may be the only player that would receive more flack for not having scored a goal yet than be applauded for leading the NHL in assists (eight).
Secondly, you may recall 2013-14 when the Flyers’ captain started the season goalless through 15 games, with just seven assists and a minus-11 rating. Giroux finished that season with a career-high-tying 28 goals and the league’s third-most points at 86.
More so than the puck being put in the net, the Flyers needed greater playmaking after last season. Giroux is providing that — as is Jakub Voracek — and, as a result, the goals are coming for the Flyers, at both even strength and on the power play.
2. Stick with the switches?
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol made a few changes before the team’s 4-3, come-from-behind win over the Sabres on Tuesday.
Veteran defenseman Nick Schultz was healthy-scratched to make room for blueliner Radko Gudas, returning from a six-game suspension to the start the season. Gudas finished with seven shot attempts and three hits in 18:27.
“Overall, what you want to see is go out and play an efficient game,” Hakstol said. “For the most part, I thought [Gudas] went out and did that.”
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who has had bad moments, stayed in the lineup for his versatility.
“He is just a guy that is reliable, who moves the puck well,” Hakstol said, “and we feel he can play in any situation whether it is OT or regulation.”
A greater change came to the team’s top line. Flyers leading goal scorer Matt Read leapfrogged to the first line from the third as Brayden Schenn dropped to Read’s previous spot. Without a point in his first three games, Schenn recorded a goal and an assist as he finds his rhythm returning from a three-game ban.
“The timing and pace of his game [are starting] to get back to where it needs to be,” Hakstol said.
3. Oh, 'Yotes
Once they beat the visiting Flyers, 4-3, in overtime in their season opener, the Coyotes hit the road for what has turned out to be a nightmarish six-game trip.
Since the victory over the orange and black, Arizona has lost five straight by a combined score of 23-13, a losing skid that started with the team’s No. 1 goalie Mike Smith being knocked out with a lower-body injury. As a result, the Coyotes are permitting an NHL-most 4.33 markers per game and own the league’s worst goal differential at minus-9.
Backup netminder Louis Domingue, who will start against the Flyers, has struggled mightily in place of Smith, going 0-4-0 in four games with a 5.03 goals-against average and .851 save percentage.
Through seven games, the Flyers have just one goal in the first period. They should jump on Arizona, which has yielded eight tallies in the opening stanza, tied for most in hockey.
4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Center Sean Couturier has been a bit quiet over his last four games with just one assist for one point after scoring three goals in his first three games. He’ll get going again playing alongside new linemates Wayne Simmonds and Read.
Coyotes: Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is coming off a two-goal output last time out to give him four goals on the season. He plays a ton (26:17 TOI, tied for fourth highest in the NHL) and is a career plus-7 against the Flyers with four goals and an assist.
5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Steve Mason is 5-9-1 with a 2.96 GAA and .899 save percentage in 15 career games against the Coyotes.
• Arizona goalie Domingue has faced the Flyers just once, allowing four goals on 33 shots in a loss last season.
• Konecny has six points (one goal, five assists), tied for third among NHL rookies.
• The Flyers own the league’s fifth-best power play at 26.9 percent.
• The Flyers will welcome back 14 members of their Hall of Fame — along with family of six other members — for Flyers Heritage Night, featuring a pregame ceremony.