Flyers center Nolan Patrick, now in his second season, hasn’t burst onto the NHL scene like some of the other young players selected No. 2 overall in the draft.
But just because he hasn’t resembled No. 2 selections such as Evgeni Malkin, Eric Staal, Jack Eichel, or Patrick Laine doesn’t mean Patrick is going to be a flop, history tells us.
In the last 20 years, some of the other forwards drafted at No. 2 got off to starts comparable to Patrick’s in their first two seasons. Daniel Sedin, who became a prolific scorer (393 goals, 1,041 points), had a combined 29 goals and 66 points in his first two years, and was nothing special until his sixth season.
Jason Spezza, drafted No. 2 overall in 2001, managed a total of 29 goals in his first two years and has 330 career goals. Aleksander Barkov, the second overall selection in 2013, had a modest 24 goals and 60 points combined over his first two seasons and is thriving in Florida.
Patrick is on pace to have a combined 28 goals and 59 points over his first two seasons. And he has been more assertive recently, scoring four goals over his last three games.
The Winnipeg native was disappointing in the first half of this season, however, and that made people wonder if the Flyers had made the right choice in the 2017 draft.
Former Flyer Mark Howe, the Hall of Fame defenseman who is Detroit’s director of pro scouting, likes Patrick’s talent, but he says the player needs to be hungrier.
“You have to want the puck all the time. … I haven’t seen enough of that in him,” Howe said Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Patrick said he needs to find another gear the rest of the season.
Howe agreed, saying Patrick “may have thought it was going to be easy” this year because he had a strong second half last season. He said the 6-foot-2, 198-pound Patrick needs to work harder and be more engaged in the action, saying that “this is different than junior” and that the competition is obviously a lot stronger.
Before Patrick scored two goals and collected a career-high four points in last Monday’s 7-4 win over Minnesota, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said he had seen improvement in the young center’s play recently.
Patrick entered Monday on a 24-game goalless streak. During most of that time, he was overpassing and he didn’t have the pickup or the creativity he has displayed in the last handful of games.
“His last few games are the best I’ve seen him since I’ve been here,” said Fletcher, who was hired Dec. 3. “And he’s a young man who just turned 20. I was out scouting a couple college free agents the other day and one was 23 and the other was 24, and Nolan is already in the NHL.
"The thing about Nolan is that he’s already mature defensively. He’s got the size, he’s got the skating, he’s got the hockey sense, but he’s a young player, and with young players, you get some inconsistency.
"But again, I’ve seen a push the last little bit. I’ve seen a little more confidence with the puck. He made a great move the other night where he split the defense, and a couple of other rushes where he came to the middle of the ice with speed and made some plays.”
Interim coach Scott Gordon said Patrick was “only at the tip of the iceberg of what he’s going to potentially be.”
“I think his confidence can still get to another level, but he’s trending in the right direction,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher said it’s “important for the coaches and all of us to work with Nolan here and get him to a different level by the end of the year. But most 20-year-olds aren’t close to his level, so I’m not concerned at all.”
Patrick has recently shown signs of the player who collected 10 goals and 21 points over his last 33 games last season.
“His pace has been a little bit better in small areas,” Gordon said. “I don’t mean from goal line to goal line. Just three feet to the left or right. Getting above the puck, getting to the net, chasing loose pucks. Short bursts of energy that allow him to be more a part of the play.”