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December 18, 2017

Flyers rookie Nolan Patrick learning to balance patience with his desire to 'make plays happen'

One of the Flyers veterans walked by Nolan Patrick and cursed at him in the dressing room for no particular reason after the teams’ Saturday morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center. Patrick, the Flyers’ baby-faced 19-year-old rookie who was the second overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, was confused. What did he do wrong, he thought aloud? 

The veteran winked at Patrick as he walked by again and the two nodded at each other, then laughed. Apparently Patrick was being put-on. He didn’t do anything wrong.

Patrick is still getting used to the ways and pranks of the NHL. But he’s coming around. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound third-line center has two goals and four assists. His last goal came in the Flyers’ 5-4 overtime loss to visiting Calgary on Nov. 18, over one month and 12 games ago. 

There has been progress, though. Patrick is thinking less, reacting more. He’s trusting his natural hockey instincts. An important point is that Patrick hasn’t played a lot of hockey the last two years. He was sidelined most of last season playing for the WHA’s Brandon Wheat Kings with a sports hernia and spent the summer recovering from abdominal surgery on June 13.

There’s been some rumbling from fans wanting to see more from the second-overall pick. Patrick pays little attention. No one will put more stress on him than he will on himself.

“It’s the way I’ve always been. I do put a lot of pressure on myself, but I think that you kind of have to reach this point,” said Patrick, who looks like he can pack on another 10 to 15 pounds of upper body strength and it doesn’t look like it will slow his game. “I think the main thing for me is skating and playing with pace. I’m not waiting for plays to happen, I’m trying to make them happen.” 

It seems like he’s doing less thinking and more reacting as the season progresses.

Dale Weise is Patrick’s linemate on the right wing. In the time he’s been with him, Weise has seen considerable growth recently with Patrick. 

“Pat’s come a long way in the last four or five games that I’ve seen,” Weise said. “He’s starting to get into a rhythm, playing with the same linemates makes things a little easier. You have to remember he’s 19, and it’s extremely difficult for anyone that age coming right in here.  You obviously put a lot of pressure on yourself scoring the first 20 games, but I think he’s playing great. You see his confidence building with every game.

“He’s starting to make those plays that you know he can make. Listen, he’s very talented. He wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t. I think Nolan was thinking a lot about things when he first came up here. When you go from being a guy playing 20, 25 minutes a night, you’re on the powerplay, you’re just playing and you’re in a rhythm. Whereas now, he’s in more of a limited role, playing 11 to 13 minutes a night is a difficult adjustment and I think he’s handling it well. The more he plays, the more comfortable he gets.

There is no stepping stone from where I was to here, but I am really enjoying it. It’s a good group of guys in the room that have helped me.

“He’s going to be a really, really, really good player.”

Weise says he doesn’t offer Patrick too much advice on ice. He knows Patrick heaps enough on himself. He’s 19 coming from the junior level, where players live with families who do their laundry and cook for them, to the NHL, where you’re expected to time manage your life. Patrick himself laughed over the fact that he’s probably washed his own clothes two or three times in his life before coming to the Flyers.

“I am fortunate, though, because my roommate is a good cook, so that’s huge and his mom is town right now and she’s been helping out around the house,” Patrick said. “There is no stepping stone from where I was to here, but I am really enjoying it. It’s a good group of guys in the room that have helped me. I still get carded everywhere I go though.”

An area that’s been vital in Patrick’s growth is the rising trust Flyers’ coach Dave Hakstol has in him.

“Most recently, I thought his game [against Buffalo on Dec. 14] was excellent,” Hakstol said about Patrick. “I think he was on the ice for close to 13 minutes and I thought that was an excellent game for him. He was sharp. He was confident with the puck, and he was really good in both directions. 

“I saw a real confident player. Sometimes, when you’re a young player and miss time, like he did for an extended period there, it’s not just [about being] physically healthy coming back to play at this level, it’s also mentally being comfortable again. For a full game, we saw that with Nolan the other night. It’s a great benchmark for him now to continue to build off of. All the way along, he’s asked about being in different situations.”

Other than one or two defensive zone faceoffs, where Hakstol had a specific matchup that he wanted, Patrick has played in various faceoff situations, Hakstol noted.

“He’ll continue to play in all of those situations, because he’s a good hockey player,” Hakstol said. “There will probably be some mistakes made, but there is also going to be a lot of good plays made.”

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