For Travis Konecny, the journey was better than the end — watching his Ottawa 67's fight for tehir playoff life without him.
The Ontario Hockey League's youngest captain and incumbent rookie of the year kept advancing this season in the nation's capital, upping his point production in the second half and evincing an utter fearlessness of physical play. In the end, that latter trait played into the 5-foot-9¾, 174-pound scoring wing being unable to suit up for the decisive game of the 67's season, a 4-3 Game 6 loss last Sunday to the Niagara IceDogs. Two days earlier, Konecny aggravated a separated shoulder, which might affect his availability to Hockey Canada in the upcoming IIHF world under-18 championship that begins Apr. 16 in Switzerland.
"If I'm healthy and depending on what happens — I'm not too sure yet — but right now I'm just going to focus on getting back to 100 per cent," Konecny said on Tuesday. "After that I'll see what happens [for the under-18 worlds].
"I kind of just re-aggravated it a bit," the Clachan, Ont., native added. "I definitely wasn't happy with missing the last game. I wanted to be there and experienced that. It was a great game to watch, they went to the wall, but I defiinitely wanted to be playing. Going down there, it it was just a matter of making sure I stay positive and make sure the guys are prepared and ready to go.
"They came to play and it was just fun to watch."
So, too, was Konecny in the back half of the regular season once he forged some chemistry with his regular linemates, overage left wing Brendan Bell and 19-year-old centre Nathan Todd, a first-year OHLer signed out of the Central Canada Hockey League. Scouts preparing NHL draft lists often take into account that players who garner a lot of attention during theirr 16-year-old seasons can often seem to struggle in the first half as 17-year-olds, as they adapt to higher expectations and higher quality of competiton. From New Year's Day through the truncated playoff run, Konecny tallied 19 goals and 29 assists for 48 assists across 31 games.
Of course, Konecny is about a lot more than putting up points.
"It's his engine, it's incredible — the kid never stops," 67's coach Jeff Brown said. "He has no mirrors in his house. He has no idea how small he is because he competes so hard against everybody, doesn't matter the size. His shot, his character, obviously his leadership in the locker room, he's going to be a pro, it's that simple. He does the little things like a pro and trains like a pro."
In January, Konecny was down at No. 26 among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking. However, there's an excellent chance of him being a top-15 to 20 pick at the NHL draft at Sunrise, Fla., in June, especially after his emergence as a leader in Ottawa.
"It's fun battling as a team and coming together," Konency said. "I think I learned a lot this year. I became a better pro. It's important to learn something each year and keep moving forward. You don't want to stand still too long in your career. As a team we did well and I'm definitely satisfied.
"Scoring more is definitely a bonus, but it was about getting those two points for our team," he added.
1. How encouraging is it to see that NHL teams are focusing much more on skill as opposed to size when it comes to the first round?
"You've been seeing it a lot lately. There's more smaller guys in the NHL and getting drafted earlier. For me, it doesn't really matter if they're looking at the size. I like to think I can play as big as 6-foot if I wanted to. As long I'm working hard, the size doesn't matter. My skill is good, too."
2. With the 67's season over now, how much more of your attention is taken up by the NHL draft?
"I think now it's time to focus on little things, like the combine. Making sure you're prepared for after the draft and everything that comes with that [development camps]. At the same time, you can''t really focus too much on that. You just have to keep working."
3. How much are you looking forward to the team interviews at the combine — where some teams like to shout questions and others try to trip you up mentally?
"It's going to be a challenge. All the guys go through it every year. It's just something you have to experience first-hand and learn from."
4. What can you say about your linemates this season, Brendan Bell and Nathan Todd?
"It was a good combination that we had there. It's important, right? Last year we found it with Vanny [Ryan Van Stralen] and Brads [Erik Bradford]. Then this year we found it toward the end with Beller and Todd. It's always good if you can find that chemistry and just roll with them. Those guys did a lot for me. "
5. What was it like with the team being back in downtown Ottawa and how much do you look forward to next season?
"It was amazing being back here with the crowd and having your home rink again. It's a good feeling, having a routine and hoping that you're in the starting lineup and you skate out to those cheers. Next year I'm looking forward to the same thing. We're hoping to have more experience as a team and go farther in the playoffs."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.