Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Konan, Manning called up 4/16

The Adirondack Phantoms’ blue line got a little thinner on Tuesday afternoon, as the Philadelphia Flyers called up two defensemen to address injuries on their blue line.

Brandon Manning and Matt Konan were scheduled to join the Flyers in time for their game against the New York Rangers Tuesday in Philadelphia. Kent Huskins has a concussion, and Bruno Gervais will undergo surgery later this week to repair a torn stomach muscle.

When the Flyers announced the call-ups, I immediately thought back to this story from October.

There was certainly a parallel to be drawn between Konan, an undrafted defenseman who was entering his rookie year on the heels of an injury, and Manning, another undrafted defenseman who had been through the same thing the season before. Manning wound up in the NHL later that year. Now, they’re both going.

I did the reporting for a profile on Konan last month, but never had the chance to write it. So here are some of those comments with you now to give you guys an idea of what to look for tonight.

He’s a big defenseman at 6-foot-3, and is looking to add muscle onto his frame. He’s got some speed. He can move the puck pretty well – either carrying himself or passing it – and set things up in the offensive zone. He’s also not going to do all of that stuff at the expense of being a liability in his own end of the ice.

He has a minus-8 plus-minus rating, which is not all that bad on a team that’s been outscored by 36 goals.

“He’s a player that’s grabbed our attention since he has come back from Trenton,” Phantoms coach Terry Murray said last month. “First of all, he’s big. He gets around the ice pretty well. He’s competing. He’s got a lot to learn in that part of it. There’s a lot in the dot-to-board game that needs to get better and it will get better as he matures, but there’s a nice upside to his game. There’s a serious prospect in him. And the more we can play him right now in critical situations, the better it’s going to be for us as an organization.”

Konan produced 54 points in his final season of junior hockey, playing as an overager on a very good Medicine Hat Tigers team. Before that, his career high was 20. This season, he has produced two goals and six points in 42 games. Asked Murray last month if he thought Konan projected as an offensive defenseman or more of a stay-at-home type, and he said the answer to that question remains to be seen. He'd like to believe that Konan is a two-way guy who can put up points, which is why he's on the power play.

In addition to undergoing off-season surgery, which delayed his professional debut by nearly two months, Konan missed eight games in January after suffering a concussion on a collision with the end boards in practice. It took Konan some time to return to normal after that concussion, but he has regained his confidence. He’s moving his feet more, making quicker decisions with and without the puck, and making them within the scope of Adirondack’s system. That took some time for him to learn earlier in the year.

Murray paired him with Andreas Lilja, a veteran of 577 NHL games, and the two worked well together. Like a veteran goalie mentoring a young netminder, Lilja took Konan under his wing. Lilja helped teach him when to support his partner, and improve his communication when recovering pucks in his own end.

The Manning call-up is significant in another way. He has, by his own admission, not had a great season with the Phantoms – either on the offensive or defensive side of the ledger. However, he has also had a season-long battle with injuries and illnesses. In November, for example, he dropped down from 202 pounds to 189. He didn’t score a goal that month, part of a stretch in which he went 17 games without one.

For the first time in his career, he lost his confidence. But he has regained it in the past few months, and was hoping to use these final few games on his contract to leave a good impression on the Flyers’ brass and prove that he’s a better hockey player than his statistics, especially his AHL-worst negative-28 plus-minus rating, indicate. The fact that he’s getting a call-up indicates the Flyers still have some faith in him.

“His game has, I think from the middle of the season, come to where it was the previous season from all the indications I’ve gotten from the other coaches,” Murray told me earlier this month. “There are a lot of good things. There’s lot to build on. There’s potential there. … There’s an upside there.”

For more on Manning’s season, and how he’s built back his confidence, check out this story from earlier this month. There’s also a blurb in there about Manning’s thoughts on his plus-minus rating.

The Phantoms did not practice this morning. The absence of Manning and Konan, however, will create an opportunity for Jeff Dimmen and Blake Kessel to get back in the line-up. There’s also a lesser chance that Zack FitzGerald could drop down from left wing to defenseman, but Murray likes FitzGerald as a forward.

They’re back at it tomorrow. Check for the next blog update then.

Until next time,


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