There was a time when the anxiety of meeting new people outweighed the joy of playing hockey for Ottawa 67's forward Travis Konecny.
"I didn't really want to play hockey," he said. "When I was a little kid I was afraid of the people in the locker room. So my parents told me playing hockey would help alleviate that fear.
"I'm so glad I stuck with it because now I'm more outgoing and I couldn't imagine hockey not being a part of my life."
It's certainly worked well for Konecny. In two seasons with the 67's, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound right wing/center had 55 goals and 138 points in 123 regular-season Ontario Hockey League games.
Konecny, selected No. 1 in the 2013 OHL draft by Ottawa, got off to a slow start in 2014-15 with three goals and 12 points in the first 18 games. In NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, he was No. 26.
"That was definitely a learning experience for me; when you're going into your draft year and have all those expectations for yourself and then you see yourself drop a little bit, I think it's a humbling thing," he said. "It helped me a lot and made me realize you need to work hard and stay focused, enjoy hockey. Once I got back to having fun and doing the little things, my stock started to go back up again."
Konecny closed the regular season with 26 goals and 56 points in his final 42 games. He also had three goals and 10 points in five OHL playoff games.
"The way I compete is I wake up every day feeling there is someone better than me so I want to push to be the best," he said.
He credited Ottawa coach Jeff Brown and assistant coach Mike Eastwood for helping him get on track.
"The turnaround had to do with my coaches Jeff Brown and Mike Eastwood; our relationship grew as the year went on," Konecny said. "By the midway point in the season I was comfortable talking to them. We did a lot of video work and I relied on my teammates a lot too. I put pressure on myself to perform well. My teammates had my back and I had theirs, that's what helped me turn it around."
Konecny impressed the scouts during the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in St. Catharines, Ontario, in January. He finished third in the on-ice fitness testing, behind Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and London Knights center Mitchell Marner, and he earned the highest score in the off-ice testing. During the game he had two goals and one assist and was named player of the game for Team Orr while playing on a line with McDavid and Halifax Mooseheads right wing Timo Meier.
"It's the luck of the draw if you click at those all-star games, but it definitely wasn't hard playing with those two guys," Konecny said.
Konecny impressed scouts enough to jump 12 spots to No. 14 on Central Scouting's final rankings, which came out in April.
"There was a big discussion about Konecny at the midterm meetings. And not unlike other players, he got off to a slow start after an [undisclosed] injury impacted his overall play," NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr said. "We wanted to wait and see him in the second half and find out if the real Konecny was going to surface again and he did. There was always a belief in him, and he was one of the better under-18 players in the summer playing against the best in the world at the Ivan Hlinka [Memorial Cup]. Usually the best players there end up being the best players in the NHL."
Konecny scored in the top 10 among players in the fitness testing at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo in three categories. He was second with 13 pull-ups; tied for fourth with 16 repetitions on the bench press; and was 10th in the standing long jump at 111.0 inches.
"The good thing is Travis Konecny has done this all by himself," Marr said. "He's gone out, played his game and carried his team and has earned that higher position and ranking."
Konecny said he's willing to play center or the wing at the next level.
"I enjoy both positions; I was a center all my life moving up and that's what I played to get me to the OHL," he said. "Then as I moved into the OHL I kind of adapted and became a wing and played with different players. Currently I'm probably more comfortable as a right wing."
Konecny had 25 interviews with teams at the Combine. He said he enjoyed the experience there and is looking forward to the next challenge in his life.
"I intend to follow the plan of whichever team drafts me," he said. "My main goal is to make the NHL as fast as I can; try to make it hard on whoever is making the choices to whether I need to return to Ottawa or stay in the NHL."
Konecny has had plenty of people to lean on for inspiration and advice. His second cousin, Vancouver Canucks center Bo Horvat was the ninth pick of the 2013 draft and made his NHL debut this season.
"We talk all the time and he's in the gym with me actually," Konecny said. "I had a lot of questions about the Combine and the draft and I play golf with him whenever I can. I'm proud of him. He's been through a lot, and the fact he stuck with the big club is so awesome. He did well and got some playoff experience."