The Curious Case of Nolan Patrick

When the Philadelphia Flyers selected forward Nolan Patrick with the second overall pick in 2017 NHL draft, there’s no way anybody could have anticipated the roller coaster ride they were about to go on. He started his career with almost two identical, underwhelming seasons where he posted 30 and 31 points in 2017-18 and 2018-19 respectively. While he didn’t hit the ground running, he flashed enough potential to believe he would one day have a future in the NHL. Then the train went off the rails.

When Patrick was M.I.A. during the 2019 preseason, everyone just assumed he had sustained an injury during his prep for the season. But when the team was silent on his status, it was becoming clear something more was going on. Right before the 2019-20 regular season was scheduled to begin, the team announced he’d be out indefinitely with a migraine disorder.

Nolan Patrick spend the entire season in the shelf with updates coming few and far batween. He finally returned to the ice soon before the NHL season was paused due to covid, skating with the team during practices in February and early March, but didn’t return to game action. Concerns grew higher when he wasn’t ready a few months later when the team went to Toronto for the playoff bubble. After a summer of scrimmaging with former Flyer Ryan White, he was finally cleared to return to the professional level during the Flyers 2021 training camp.

Patrick made his return to the NHL for the start of the 2021 season and immediately relit the expectations that had been dwindling over the past two calendar years. He scored a goal in the season opener against the Penguins and added an assist during the Flyers’ second game of the season. He racked up a pair of assists and another goal in the following five games but has gone cold since.

Now pointless in 27 of his last 29 games, it’s time to start wondering what is up with Nolan Patrick. He has been given the opportunity to play on the right wing alongside Kevin Hayes and Claude Giroux as well as copious time on the powerplay and while by association he seen an uptick in his play, there still doesn’t seem to be that urge to reach the next level.

He, alongside fellow returning forward Oskar Lindblom, have to be given some level of the benefit of the doubt due to their extended absences. 36 games in the NHL in two calendar years isn’t exactly a huge sample size, but the Flyers aren’t really at a place where they can wait around for too long to find out exactly what Patrick can still bring to the table. Not only are they in “win now” mode on the ice, they have some off-ice concerns with him as well.

The most important thing will be the Seattle expansion draft this summer, which he will be eligible to be selected by the Kraken. The Flyers forward core is up in the air as far as protection goes. Other than Giroux and Hayes, who are the only mandatory protections, they are not required to protect anybody else, meaning the remaining five forwards the Flyers can protect will be up to the club. Konecny and Couturier are getting protected no doubt, there’s a good chance at least one one of JVR or Voracek will be protected as well, that leaves the last two spots for Lindblom, Aube-Kubel, Laughton, Raffl, Bunnaman or Patrick.

If they choose to protect him, then they will probably re-sign him as well. Patrick chose to accept his qualifying offer, mainly because he had very little choice, last summer which paid him a shade over $874,000 this season. While his play may not dictate a huge pay raise, the length of the deal could be an interesting wrench in the plans. His salary will at least hit the $1 million mark, albeit probably not more than that at his current pace, but with Scott Laughton due a contract as well, and other young forward Morgan Frost still untested at the NHL level, could the organization opt to go in a different direction?

But yet again, maybe they choose to hook their cart to Nolan Patrick’s horse and move on from Scott Laughton and let Frost hang in limbo a little longer. They could go all in on the former second overall pick, lock him up for three maybe four years and let whatever is going to happen, happen.

Nolan Patrick has less than half a season to figure his game out, but if things don’t change then what does the organization do with Patrick? Do they leave him exposed at the draft and maybe Seattle will be interested in him? do they include his rights in a trade this offseason and let Frost get his undisputed crack at a roster spot? Realistically, Patrick is a guy that they can probably get on a cheap deal for a few years and he can just ride the tide here in Philly. He doesn’t make too many mistakes on the ice, he would be a perfectly fine bottom six forward, but that doesn’t feel like how his story was supposed to go. Maybe a change of scenery would do Patrick well, and dealing him now would in fact be dealing him while his value is low, but waiting around could diminish he value further.

It’s hard to get angry with Patrick. If anything, there’s probably a part of us all that wants him to succeed. It’d be a great comeback story and give the team an added boost to compete. Yet, that doesn’t seem like the case right now. Patrick finds himself in a weird limbo that only he himself can escape from. Production on the ice would probably go a long way to sparking some confidence that could translate to continued success at the NHL level, but if he can’t find that paired with two of the team’s best players, then maybe it’s not destined to come. Either way, Patrick has a long, tedious season in front of him to get back to normal, and depending on how the rest of the 2021 campaign goes, it will determine how his future with the Flyers ends up unraveling.

By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)

photo credit: nhl.com

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