Maybe it’s because he has been around a hockey rink his whole life.
Or maybe it’s because of his bloodlines.
Whatever the reason, Flyers rookie Nolan Patrick, whose father and two uncles reached the NHL, doesn’t play like your typical teenager.
Though Patrick recently turned 19, the center is mature beyond his years. His on-ice IQ is off the charts. That explains why he is making the jump from the junior level to the NHL.
“He’s got a ton of smarts,” said veteran right winger Wayne Simmonds, one of Patrick’s linemates. “He makes plays that are really advanced for his age.”
Left winger Jordan Weal agreed.
“When you see guys that come out of junior, sometimes they have all the skill in the world, but the little things aren’t there,” Weal said. “Professional hockey is a little different, and I feel like he really gets the pro game. He gets the little details — coming out of your own zone and the little plays you need to make the play. He gets it, and it’s refreshing to see. It’s going to bode well for him now and in the future because he’s only going to build and grow from there.”
Craig Button, the former Calgary general manager who is now a prospect expert for TSN in Canada, says the 6-foot-2, 198-pound Patrick’s style of play reminds him of Eric Staal, who has collected 353 goals and 846 points in 1,011 career games.
Weal called Patrick a “unique player, and that’s good for him. You don’t want to be too much like anyone else. You want to have your own style, your own game.”
Patrick’s game is all about being a fundamentally sound player who always seems to be in the right position at both ends of the ice. He plays with an edge, has an uncanny ability to find his open teammates, and doesn’t take any shortcuts on defense.
“He sees the ice very well,” Weal said, “and he does a great job of distributing.”
Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in the June draft, spent most of the preseason centering Weal and Simmonds on the team’s second line.
“Being with them really helps,” Patrick said. “They’re obviously both great players. I felt like we built some chemistry pretty fast, and they’re pretty easy guys to play with.”
In training camp, Patrick said his “only goal was to make the team.” Now that he has accomplished that, he just wants to improve on a daily basis.
“I’ve never set too many numbers for myself in past years,” he said. “I just want to get better every day. I feel like I’m getting more confident with my offensive play. I know I’m capable of more, so I’m just trying to get more comfortable and keep improving.”
His production in the Western Hockey League was ultra-impressive. Two years ago, he had 41 goals and 102 points in 72 games for Brandon, making him the favorite to be drafted No. 1 overall. He had 46 points last season, including 20 goals, despite playing just 33 games because of abdominal and leg injuries.
Patrick, a Winnipeg native, had abdominal surgery before and after last season. He was hobbled last season but felt fully recovered during the Flyers’ training camp.
A quiet, easygoing sort, Patrick is finally healthy for the first time since two seasons ago. He was asked what he can do now that is different from last season.
“Skate five feet without getting tired,” he cracked. “It was pretty bad last year.”
And, yet, he still managed to average 1.4 points per game.
“I think a lot of those were power-play points,” said Patrick, who is good friends with Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov, his Brandon teammate two seasons ago. “It was a tough year and I’m just happy it’s behind me.”
Patrick was more of a playmaker than a shooter in the preseason, and that mentality may continue for a while.
“He’s got the skill to do both, but usually when guys come into the league they tend to pass first,” Simmonds said. “He may not be looking for his own shot opportunities, but I think as he goes along and he gains his confidence, that’ll come.
“He’s a good player; he went second overall for a reason.”
Patrick trained with some NHL players over the summer, including Chicago star Jonathan Toews, and it made him feel more comfortable when training camp started.
He has been around former NHL players his entire life. Patrick’s father, Steve, a right winger, was drafted 20th overall in 1980 and played six seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers and Quebec Nordiques, and his uncle, James Patrick, was drafted ninth overall by the Rangers in 1981 and spent 21 seasons as an NHL defenseman. One of his other uncles, Rich Chernomaz, a right winger who was drafted 21st overall in 1981, had a brief NHL career and played in a total of 51 games with three teams.
Patrick calls his father every day and gives him a progress report.
“He doesn’t give me advice anymore, really,” Patrick said. “He knows to stay out of it” and let his coaches direct him.
Added Patrick: “We’re really close. He’s been huge for me my whole life. Growing up, he was always shooting pucks at me and stuff like that. I don’t think we’re similar players. He claims he was the worst player ever. He always shoots himself down, and it’s pretty funny. He’s an awesome guy and very humble. … I think he was a lot tougher than I am and was a more physical player.”
When Patrick made his Wells Fargo Center debut last month, fans were chanting his name during the overtime of a preseason rookie game against the Islanders.
“I didn’t hear that,” he said. “I was too focused, I guess.”
Spoken like a teenager who sounds — and acts — as if he’s been in the league for a while.