Leafs’ young guns bring fame, fire to game
VOORHEES, N.J. >> The Flyers left the Skate Zone Thursday and headed north. There, they would spend a night at the corner of hockey’s past and its future.
It is Hall of Fame weekend in Toronto, where by Monday Eric Lindros and Pat Quinn, they of Flyers’ connections, will join Rogie Vachon and Sergey Makarov in the Class of 2016. But it will begin Friday, with what the marquee will announce as the “Hockey Hall of Fame Game” between the Flyers and the Maple Leafs.
That’s a bit of a mouthful for ordinary teams, for what exactly is historic or famous about their combined record of 11-11-5? Or is it a hint at what is to come? Better still, is it a promise?
While the hockey historians will rightly spin their attention across town to the Hall of Fame itself, the sport’s futurists will be drawn to the Air Canada Centre Friday, where five of the NHL’s top 14 rookie scorers will be playing. That would include William Nylander, Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner of the Leafs, and Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov of the Flyers.
Hockey Hall of Fame … Class of 2035? Just a coincidence? Or a trend?
“I don’t know,” Konecny said. “Maybe it was just a good year and all the players developed at the same time. But I was thinking the same thing, that a lot of the young guys were coming into the league this year. And lucky enough, I am one of them.”
It was fortunate for the Flyers that Konecny has been so productive, so professional, so soon at the age of 19, collecting three goals and nine points in his first 14 games, seventh best among NHL rookies. So, too, was it with Provorov, the defenseman, checking in at No. 14 with six assists. Yet not only do the Leafs present the Flyers with a minimal reason to stand in awe, but the particular challenge of facing so many young scorers at once clearly has been a film-room focal point.
“They are impressive to watch,” Claude Giroux said. “I haven’t had a chance to play against them. But the things they do at high speed are very impressive.”
One by one Thursday, the Flyers’ veterans basically exhaled when the dressing-room conversation would turn to Nylander, Matthews and Marner, all in the top six of rookie scorers, none older than 20. The occasional challenge from a teen-aged star is expected in their league. But a posse of them, at once, creates uncertainty. Or is that danger?
“You know how it is with those young teams,” Jake Voracek said. “They try to play that shotgun hockey. You just have to make sure that you are patient. Sometimes, it can happen in a game, that you get out-played, outskated. But you just have to stay with the structure and don’t give them that space in the important parts of the ice, in the defensive zone. Don’t give them space to pick up the speed and make a play.
“Just be patient and some hole is going to open up.”
The Leafs are young, but vulnerable at 5-53. Whether they were smothered with that reality in meetings, or if it’s just hockey reality, the Flyers’ all but revealed their plan: Stay patient and maybe those teenagers will do something reckless.
“I mean, when they are going to play, regardless of what the outcome is, that’s who they are building their team around,” said the elderly Brayden Schenn, age 25. “Young guys tend to make a little bit more mistakes. That’s just the nature of learning the game. But they are highly skilled and can make plays. And you’ve seen what they’ve done so far.
“Obviously, they might make a mistake or two. But on the other hand, they might do something that can beat you, too. They have that much skill. So it works both ways.”
So that will be the show beside the show this weekend in Toronto, where a Flyers legend will become a Hall of Famer. And was it really 24 years ago that, at 19, Lindros was beginning a rookie season that would include 41 goals and 75 points?
With Konecny and Provorov, they will not be out of place in any cascade of hockey youth. But if the weekend in Toronto shocks them in no other way, it should be as a reminder that eras pass in a hurry. Opportunities, too.