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September 26, 2018

For Flyers' center Nolan Patrick, some things never change

The only sound often heard behind the Patrick home in Winnipeg on the backyard rink was the thwack, thwack, thwack of a stick hitting a hockey puck. It gets dark early in that bottom portion of the Canadian frozen tundra, yet, young Nolan Patrick, steam emanating from his wet head, fingers so numb he could barely feel the stick in his hands, had to get that one more shot off before promising his mother he would come in for dinner.

Nothing has really changed for Patrick, except he's traded in those icy ponds for state-of-the-art NHL theaters. The Flyers’ Skate Zone, in Voorhees, N.J. is where Patrick is always among the last Flyers off the ice, if not the last, nowadays.

Patrick, who turned 20 on Sept. 19, defines himself as a “hockey nerd,” with the worst facial hair in the NHL. He’s also quickly become one of the keys to the Flyers’ current success — and future foundation pieces. In his rookie season, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound center, who was the second overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, scored 13 goals and had 17 assists over 73 games. And this came after coming off surgery on June 13, 2017, to repair an abdominal core injury.

It caused Patrick to start slow last season, and even some to doubt whether or not Patrick was the right choice at No. 2. The criticism didn’t go through one ear and out of the other. It never reached Patrick’s ears. He didn’t care.

Still recovering from surgery, Patrick scored two goals and had five assists over the first three months of last season, then finished the last four months with 11 goals and 12 assists. In the last month of the season, including the playoffs, Patrick was arguably the best player on the Flyers.

His attitude and work ethic during training camp says he’s about to take off this season. Centering the Flyers’ second line with new acquisition and former Flyer James van Riemsdyk at left wing, and Gritty’s brother, Jake Voracek, at right wing, Patrick is expected to do bigger things.

With scoring depth that goes three lines deep, and with a defense topped by budding star Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere, the Flyers, if healthy, can be in a position to challenge the defending Stanley Cup and Metropolitan Division champion Washington Capitals.

Patrick will be an important cog in that drive.

“I gained more confidence as the year went on [during the 2017-18 season], and I got more opportunity and just ran with it and kept building my game throughout the second half of the year,” Patrick said. “I feel good, definitely better than I did this time last year. I know everyone in the outside world looks at points and stuff like that, but for me, it’s about being a good two-way guy.

“Obviously, I want to contribute as much as I can offensively. But growing up, I’ve always focused on being a two-way player. I got stronger over the summer and a little bigger. I’m playing around 205 [pounds] right now, and I feel good at this weight. Last year, I was playing around 198, 197. Coming back my second year [in the NHL], you know what the organization is about and I try to come in with the same mindset that I’m trying to make the team so I don’t sit back and relax at all. It’s a good mindset to have.”

When the subject of being a difference maker for the 2018-19 Flyers was broached, Patrick didn’t back away. In fact, it’s a role it seems he can’t wait to embrace.

Adding JVR and placing him on Patrick’s line could produce huge dividends. JVR, a left-handed shot, scored 36 goals for Toronto last season, while Voracek, another southpaw shooter, finished with a career-best 85 points (20 goals and a career-best 65 assists) in his seventh season with the Flyers.

“I want to do build more off what I did the second half of last year,” Patrick said.

“I do have to do something about this” he continued, after grabbing the few whiskers he had on his chin, then laughing. “I probably have the worst facial hair in the NHL. I can’t let that grow out. As for goals this year, I really don’t like setting numbers or anything like that. I just want to keep improving every day, contribute as much as I can and being the best two-way player I can be.”

Van Riemsdyk and Patrick, a right-handed shooter, appeared to build an instant chemistry when Flyers’ coach Dave Hakstol put them together.

“You saw in his first year that [Patrick] did gain more confidence, and he knows what it takes now to be successful,” said van Riemsdyk, 29, the second overall pick in the 2007 draft behind Patrick Kane. “He’s a smart player, he skates well and he’s intelligent, so it’s only a matter of time when a player like that gets better and continues to push forward.

“He wants to be a player. He seems hungry for different avenues to improve his game. When you’re around a guy like that, it’s a great thing because it pushes you to do better as well. Patty works at it. It doesn’t surprise me that he always one of the last ones off the ice. It’s been a good fit with us so far.”

As Flyers were still coming into their oval-shaped dressing room at Skate Zone from a recent work out, Patrick, once again, was walking back out to the ice.

“I like working on little things,” he said. “I probably watched every single video on YouTube of every star in the league when I was growing up. I was always kind of a hockey nerd.”

When you love doing something, you could never work too hard.

For Nolan Patrick, some things never change.       

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