VOORHEES, N.J. — Just a day before the NHL holiday break in 2017-18, Travis Konecny walked into the visiting locker room of Nationwide Arena and saw his name next to Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier.
He lit up at the sight of opportunity.
"I remember from there, I played the rest of the season with that line and that was kind of where I found my confidence," Konecny said Wednesday.
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In his second NHL season, the 20-year-old Konecny had 10 points (four goals, six assists) through 35 games. Once he joined Giroux and Couturier that night against John Tortorella's Blue Jackets, he went on to record 37 points (20 goals, 17 assists) and a plus-19 rating over his final 46 games.
In this transitional 2022-23 season, there has been opportunity aplenty for a slew of young players in the organization. The Flyers want to see what they have in their youth as they try to decipher who's a part of the future. Tortorella, in his first year as head coach of the Flyers, is giving his young pieces a chance to play in big situations.
The Flyers hope they're starting to see the rewards of that. Morgan Frost and Owen Tippett are two 23-year-old forwards getting their first crack at full-time NHL duty. Recently playing on the first line alongside a proven veteran in James van Riemsdyk, Frost and Tippett have produced.
Frost has seven points (three goals, four assists) and a plus-2 rating over the Flyers' last eight games, while Tippett owns six points (four goals, two assists) and a plus-5 mark. Seven of the eight games have come on a line with van Riemsdyk, who returned two weeks ago from a fractured finger.
"When you get the opportunity like that, it's amazing how far it goes for a young player," Konecny said. "You can just see their confidence, it's just growing and growing.
"I can't speak enough to how much it means when you get a little confidence as a young player, you start to show a little bit of what you can bring to the game rather than overthinking every play."
The Flyers have seen other positive developments from their youth. Noah Cates, 23, was excellent in the team's 2-1 win Thursday over the Devils and is playing 18-plus minutes per game. He's now centering the 25-year-old Konecny and the 22-year-old Joel Farabee.
Cam York, arguably the organization's top defensive prospect, has played his push-the-envelope style. The 21-year-old has four points (one goal, three assists) and a plus-5 mark in six games since being called up from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. He collected two of those assists Tuesday in the Flyers' 5-3 win over the Blue Jackets.
Before the start of the season, York was sent down to the Phantoms. Tortorella challenged him to want to make a difference with his puck-moving skill set.
"I feel like I have some freedom, for sure," York said Wednesday. "I definitely don't have a long leash with Torts, but I know that. I've got to be responsible to a degree, but at the same time, I can play my game, do what I do at the blue line and stuff like that in the offensive zone."
Tortorella is OK with mistakes as long as they're aggressive mistakes. That seems to suit York's game well?
"It suits it to a tee," York said. "That's nice for me. I don't have any second thoughts, I'm not questioning what I'm doing out there. I think that's the biggest thing."
The glimpses of the youth are just glimpses. The 11-15-7 Flyers will look for it to be sustained in longer stretches. But giving the young pieces the opportunity to learn through failure and success is the start.
"That's how the process works," Tortorella said Wednesday. "There are some encouraging things as far as some of the spots they have been put in. I try to temper myself because I think there are potholes, too. You think some of them have got it figured out but then you realize when you play a set of games, they really haven't."
The Flyers have said they need to improve their talent level. They also need to see what their talent in-house can do.
"I think we have to get better with skill. I do. I'm not talking out of turn here, I'm not trying to be the general manager, but we have to get more skill here," Tortorella said. "Where those guys fall as we continue to build — it's not building the next couple of months, this is going to be a couple of years, where the skill comes into play. That's where it falls into place.
"Has Frosty done enough and does he continue to grow over the next year or throughout this year to where we feel that's a big part of our skill level? Or do we need to look elsewhere?
"This is all ever-fluid as we're going through here. I'm happy for Frosty because I think he's finding some more consistency. But I still don't know what the answer is there with him as far as where he falls; we still have to wait that out."
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