ANAHEIM, Calif. — For those who expected more scoring and more creativity from Nolan Patrick in his first two NHL games, take a deep breath and relax.
The kid is going to be fine. The kid is going to be playing a long time and, eventually, will be the Flyers’ top-line center.
Just because a player was drafted No. 2 overall doesn’t mean he’s going to step into the NHL and dominate. He turned 19 last month and, truth be told, he’s holding his own.
There is more substance than flash in his game, and, in the long run, that will sustain a lengthy and successful career.
In his first two games — a 5-3 win over San Jose, followed by a 2-0 loss to the physical Kings — Patrick didn’t score, but he didn’t look out of place, either. He played solid two-way games, especially in the opener, and made some crisp passes to set up scoring chances.
“His hockey IQ is pretty impressive for a young player like that,” captain Claude Giroux said as the Flyers prepared to play in Anaheim on Saturday night. “He’s going to be a good player.”
Patrick has sometimes shown a reluctance to shoot — for instance, he bypassed a golden scoring chance from the left circle on a power play in Los Angeles and made an ill-advised pass — but as he gets more comfortable, the shots, and goals, will come.
“He can shoot, and he will shoot,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “The one thing with a young player, sometimes you want to show a little respect for your linemates and a guy like Simmer [Wayne Simmonds], and you think pass first instead of thinking about what’s the right play. Typically, Nolan makes the right play, and he’ll get better as time goes on.”
Hextall liked Patrick’s game in the opening-night win, but he thought his energy level dipped a bit in the hard-fought loss in Los Angeles.
“But that’s pretty normal for most guys, let alone a 19-year-old,” Hextall said of playing games on back-to -back nights. “He’s very consistent on his reads, and his positioning on the ice is terrific. He had a pretty tough matchup [in L.A.], and I think for a 19-year-old, he’s made a nice account of himself and will learn from it.”
Patrick, whose teammates call him “Patty,” had centered Jordan Weal and Simmonds. They combined for nine shots in the first game — three by each player — and just four in the loss. He was dropped to the third line for Saturday’s game, centering Dale Weise and Travis Konecny.
The game in Los Angeles was especially tight-checking and space was at a premium.
“He had a tough matchup; he was playing against a pretty good guy,” said coach Dave Hakstol, referring to former Flyer Jeff Carter of the Kings. Patrick won just two of eight faceoffs. “He and his line battled hard against a big, heavy line.”
“I think I can be better. I wasn’t good enough,” Patrick said after managing one shot against the Kings. “Just going to move on from here and hopefully be better the next game. Just stay confident and keep pushing.”
Patrick, rounding into form after undergoing his second abdominal surgery in the last two summers, said the pace of the early regular-season games was obviously faster than it was in the preseason, “but I felt pretty good and I felt our line played pretty good.”
His teammates were dumbfounded by how he showed no nerves in his debut.
“Honestly, I wasn’t nervous at all,” he said. “I was more excited. They were kind of joking around with me before the game about it, and it was a good game and I was happy to get the first win.”
Patrick plays unselfishly. To him, goals and assists are secondary. He just cares about victories.
“This is a hard league with veteran players, let alone with guys who are playing their first or second NHL game,” Hakstol said. “It’s a hard league.”
For Patrick and the other Flyers rookies, NHL 101 is underway and it will be a work in progress for the next six months.