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February 23, 2018

Flyers rookie Nolan Patrick finally feeling 'more comfortable' in NHL – and it's showing

It isn’t supposed to be like this for NHL rookies – at least most rookies. They're supposed to tire as the drudgery of an 82-game NHL schedule chugs along interminably. 

That, however, is not the case for Flyers rookie Nolan Patrick. He seems to be getting stronger. 

Then again, Nolan Patrick isn't most rookies. Perhaps the Flyers did know what they were doing when they took the 6-foot-2, 200-pound center with the second-overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. 

The streaking Flyers are now 32-19-10, tied with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins with 74 points and one point behind the Metropolitan Division leader Washington Capitals (34-20-7, 75 points). 

Over their last four games — all wins – Patrick has recorded an assist and three goals, including the game-winner in Thursday's 2-1 victory over Columbus at the Well Fargo Center. In his last 12 games, the 19-year-old rookie has five goals, almost doubling his total through his first 40 games (3 goals).

It helps that Patrick is gaining in confidence and strength during the most important time of the year. It also shows the confidence Flyers coach Dave Hakstol has in rookie. Most recently, Hakstol moved him to the power play in place of injured forward Wayne Simmonds. He also has Patrick centering the second line with Jordan Weal and Jake Voracek. 

“I think there’s a little less pressure,” Patrick said about being a front-of-the-net presence on the power play. “You don’t have the puck on your stick as much. I think my shots are something I need to improve on. It’s kind of nice for me to be there and not try and beat goalies with my shots. I like it there. 

“The last 15 or 20 games, I’ve been feeling myself. Gradually over time, you get more comfortable. [Hakstol] has been great. When I first got here, they made me work for everything. They didn’t put me in situations that I wasn’t ready for. Even now, when I’m not playing great, [Hakstol] does what’s best for the team. He’ll hold me back or not put me out there when I’m struggling on faceoffs. He notices that and he’s been huge for me.

It’s the little things and Nolan is doing a lot of those little things on a nightly basis... The fact that he’s taken pride in that is really the foundation of his game.

“I don’t know what it is. It’s been like this for a long time for me, where every season I play, my second half gets better. That’s something I need to work on. It’s been like that for a while.” 

Hakstol has always liked Patrick’s hockey acumen. 

“Patty’s a good player,” Hakstol said. “His approach to the game and his hockey sense and intelligence is what gives him an opportunity to be successful in any situation. Each time, we’ve been able to give him a little more opportunity and he’s taken advantage of that. Again, it’s not the areas of the game that end up under a spotlight or highlight reel that, a lot of times, are important at this time of the year. 

“It’s the little things and Nolan is doing a lot of those little things on a nightly basis, up and down the middle of the rink, playing a good 200-foot game. The fact that he’s taken pride in that is really the foundation of his game.”  

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