Leafs’ young guns bring fame, fire to game

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Jack McCaf­fery Colum­nist To con­tact Jack McCaf­fery, email him at jm­c­caf­fery@21stcen­tu­ry­media.com; fol­low him on Twit­ter @Jack­McCaf­fery

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.

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