Rookie center Nolan Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft, is being rewarded for his improved play.
Patrick and Wayne Simmonds were elevated from the third to second line at practice Monday in Voorhees, joining Jake Voracek on that unit.
“In the last dozen games, Patty’s played pretty good, strong two-way hockey with the puck,” coach Dave Hakstol said following the Flyers’ first practice after the all-star break. “He’s much more comfortable having the puck. That’s one of the biggest developments we’ve seen in his game. Early on, there were times I thought he was was just trying to make a safe play and move the puck to somebody else. The last stretch here, he’s been a guy who’s wanted the puck and made positive things happen when he’s had it.”
Patrick began the season on the second line for two games, was quickly demoted to the third line, and later had his development slowed by a concussion. He hasn’t scored much (three goals and nine points in 40 games), but he has been an “even” or “plus” player in 18 of the last 22 games.
Playing alongside high-scoring wingers Simmonds (16 goals) and Voracek (league-high 47 assists), the Flyers hope, will jump-start Patrick’s offensive game.
“I’ve been with Simmy for a while, so I’m used to him, and obviously Jake is one of the best playmakers in the league,” said Patrick, whose team will play in Washington on Wednesday. “So any time you get a chance to play with them it’s pretty exciting.”
Patrick, 19, said Voracek is “unbelievable with the puck and sees the ice as well as anyone, so it should be fun.”
Based on Monday’s practice, Voracek will be shifted from right wing to left wing.
“It’s something obviously I take pride in and wherever I get put, I want to perform the same way I did on the other side,” Voracek said.
Unlike a lot of early-round picks, such as New Jersey’s Nico Hischier, Patrick has been eased into the lineup and not played on the top line.
“I didn’t play too much hockey last year with my injuries,” said Patrick, referring to his junior season with Brandon. “I think it was nice not to be thrown right into the fire at that position [this season]. Obviously, they know how to handle young guys and I believe in everything they’ve been doing.”
General manager Ron Hextall said Patrick has elevated his play in recent games and “looks to me like he’s a little bit more comfortable at this level, and sometimes that’s a little bit of a breakthrough. Now in saying that, we need a little bit more from him.”
The Flyers’ new-look third line had Val Filppula centering Jordan Weal and Michael Raffl.
Goalies Brian Elliott (lower-body injury) and Michal Neuvirth (stomach virus) were missing from practice, but Hextall wasn’t overly concerned. He hopes that Elliott, who skated before practice Monday and had to leave for precautionary reasons, could join the team Tuesday and that both goalies will be able to dress for Wednesday’s game.
Captain Claude Giroux, who played in the All-Star Game on Sunday in Tampa, was told to stay home and rest Monday. Instead, he showed up at practice.
“That’s who he is,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “G wanted to be out there with his teammates and, hey, that’s a good thing for our team.”
“What a knucklehead,” Hextall kidded.
Added Hextall: “On one hand, I kind of wish he stayed away, and on the other hand, it kind of shows what he’s all about. … He showed a lot of respect for his teammates.”
Toward the end of practice, the Flyers got together at center ice and delivered an E-A-G-L-E-S chant.
“The whole city is pretty jacked up for this game, and we are, too,” said Giroux, who said he and his teammates plan to watch the Super Bowl together.