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What Really Is "NHL-readiness"?

Created 272 days ago
by Michael DeNicola

Tags: Ivan Provorov Travis Konecny
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written by Michael DeNicola


Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 --



Ron Hextall has shared copious insight over the last two offseasons, training camps, and preseasons. He has basically given us the schematics on how he develops talent from within, and how he grades our prospects' NHL-readiness. One article, which is virtually all inclusive of this insight, comes to mind


His words promote patience, and Ron has exercised exactly that. Hextall replaced Paul Holmgren well over two years ago, and this Fall will be the first time we get to see Hextall's draft choices play professional hockey: Travis Sanheim, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Radel Fazleev are each geared to start their pro careers with the Phantoms in 2016-17. Guys like Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Shayne Gostisbehere? Those were players chosen under the Holmgren monarchy. 


But there are no two prospects of Hextall's who are spoken about more or hyped more than Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny. You ask any diehard Flyers fan out there, and they'll likely tell you how ready one or both is to crack the roster out of camp. Despite all the caution flags Ron Hextall has raised in interviews and press conferences, their dominating achievements in their Junior leagues is enough to convince people they're NHL material this minute. And any additional time served in the CHL would be a "waste of time." Again, this just seems to be a popular opinion.


When I focus attention on Hextall's words, I see the most pushback on this quote in particular --


"What’s the sense of having a young kid come in that’s not as good as a guy we already have and putting him on your team, and then your team is not quite as good as it should be, but you’re going to develop a player and hurt your team by keeping a player? No. we’re not a team like that. We have enough bodies, we have enough good players, we made the playoffs last year, so they have to come in and beat someone out."



Fans figure that Travis Konecny would come into camp and automatically be better than Matt Read or Chris VandeVelde. They figure Ivan Provorov will come into camp and automatically be better than Andrew MacDonald, Brandon Manning, or Nick Schultz. And according to this quote from Hextall, how does this not qualify as "beating someone out"? 


It's a very fair question. But it's one that I think misses the point...


Guys like Konecny and Provorov were taken so high in the Draft because there are no questions surrounding their skill. As is, they're absolutely more talented than a number of roster players. But the concern doesn't lie on their immediate impact; the concern lies with sustainable performance. 


No matter how terrific Provorov and Konecny look in Juniors, keep in mind that they're dominating against children. While they've succeeded against some of the best competition in their respective leagues, they've also been dominating against 3rd & 4th line CHL forwards and bottom-pairing CHL defensemen and backup CHL goaltenders. Most of which won't catch a whiff of ECHL hockey, never mind NHL. 


You look at videos of Konecny scoring an unbelievable goal, or a video of him being an unbelievable playmaker; how many of these highlights are against legitimate NHL prospects or players with NHL potential? 


Same goes for Provorov. Sure, he was the 2015-16 CHL Defenseman of the Year, but what does that prove exactly? That he's NHL ready? So did Danny Syvret, Brendan Bell, Micki DuPont, Derrick Walser, Sean Blanchard, Nolan Baumgartner, Steve Gosselin, John Slaney, and Bryan Fogarty... 



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I am not trying to discredit anything Provorov has done throughout his career in the Western Hockey League. He is a magnificent talent, and a physical phenom for his age. I grow goosebumps just thinking about him and his smooth skating agility on our top pairing one day. 


But I don't accept the CHL DOY Award as some be-all argument for immediate NHL status. I just don't buy that whatsoever. Nor does the accomplishment mean he's pardoned or too good to learn MORE in another season of Junior hockey. After all, if he's returned to the Wheat Kings, there'll probably be a leadership role waiting for him; possibly even the captaincy. That's another level of experience he could take on and master before becoming the NHL dynamo we believe he will be. 


Dougie Hamilton was drafted by the Boston Bruins in 2011, won the CHL Dman award in 2011-12, and was assigned back to St. Catharines, Ontario, the next Fall. So sliding Ivan Provorov back to Brandon, Manitoba, for the 2016-17 season (just after winning the CHL Dman award) isn't an unprecedented decision. 



In that quote from Hextall, I believe the emphasis lies on our prospect's ability to sustain a high level of performance through the rigors of a NHL season, while simultaneously continuing to develop and improve. That, alone, is a tall order. There's an enormous difference between what a prospect faces in a NHL preseason game and what he competes against between February and April of a NHL schedule. So this isn't a question of whether he's more talented than a veteran in October; the question is, how does he mentally and physically compete against the likes of Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns, or Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, or Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith in the month of March, in the heat of a Playoff run? 


You can point to as many CHL highlights as you want; never before has Ivan Provorov or Travis Konecny or any of our highly skilled prospects faced competition like mid-season NHL competition. And there's no mathematical formula that lets you know whether or not a 19-year-old kid is ready to handle those challenges. Therein lies an experience factor which veterans have over our forward and defense prospects when they report to camp. And it's not as simple as saying "They have to get experience somehow! Might as well start them now and let them grow!" Quite honestly, that's an impatient and dangerous mindset. 


Player development is 99% mental. Guys like Provorov and Konecny, they already encompass the raw talent that creates the foundation of a tenured, successful NHL player. The key is to develop and adapt their minds. Making the jump from Junior hockey to NHL hockey is so much more significant than I think fans give it credit for. Sam Morin, who just finished his first pro year in the AHL, had something to say about the differences he faced --


"The AHL is so much different than junior. It's not even close. The guys are way stronger and little things, like in the corners, those guys aren't gliding to the net. They're sprinting. There's just so much intensity and that's the big difference. It was a big adjustment, but I learned from it."


We're talking about a 20-year-old making the jump from the QMJHL to the AHL; a 20-year-old who was chosen 11th Overall in the NHL Draft. I find this take incredibly relevant. 


A young hockey player who's transitioning to the pro stage has to basically re-calibrate his mind and learn the game all over again at breakneck speed. This time, everyone is faster, they're stronger, they're bigger and more experienced. Most of whom you compete against are just as good as you, or better. Their game has an edge, and they feast on the unsuspecting, doe-eyed, tenderfooted rookies out there. It's up to the young newcomer to pair his raw skill with his Hockey IQ, and apply them efficiently throughout this advancement. 


More often than not.... that takes time. 


I want to be clear---I'm not dismissing the possibility that one of Ivan Provorov or Travis Konecny make the Flyers roster this September. However, I do question the probability. But ya never know. Perhaps one or both of them wind up making the Flyers this season, and they rain brimstone and fire all over our adversaries like Sodom and Gomorrah. A couple of teenagers injecting high-octane into an otherwise moderate talent pool... who can't fall in love with that image?


I'm ready to see our future suit up in a uniform sooner than later, I assure you. But at the same time, I find the value in Hextall's patient approach, and the pending criticisms he'll receive are ones I think lack acuity and composure.


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