The NHL’s 2021 Draft Lottery, scheduled for June 2, is now less than a week away. For Flyers fans, that brings up memories of 2017. The team moved up to second overall, and selected center Nolan Patrick from the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League.
Moving up from 13th position, the Flyers considered themselves lucky to be able to grab Patrick. He started his draft-minus-one year by winning gold at the 2016 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He ended it as playoff MVP leading the Wheat Kings to the 2016 WHL Championship.
As a 17-year-old, he finished fifth in WHL scoring with 102 points, just behind his 20-year-old teammate Jayce Hawryluk. On his blue line? Ivan Provorov, who the Flyers had selected seventh overall out of Brandon in 2015.
Patrick’s early on-ice success was backed up by his strong athletic pedigree. His father, Steve, a winger, had been a first-round draft pick himself back in 1980. He appeared in 250 NHL games. His uncle, James Patrick, was a defenseman — also a first-round pick, one year later. James appeared in 1,280 NHL games and has served as Nolan’s offseason training mentor.
An Uncertain Future?
In four NHL seasons, Nolan Patrick has logged 197 games played, scoring 30 goals and 70 points. After missing the entire 2019-20 season due to migraine disorder, Patrick returned to full time action this year. But he managed just nine points in 52 games. He was also a team-worst minus-30 as the Flyers finished the season dead last in the NHL in goals against.
Two weeks ago, Frank Seravalli of TSN reported that Patrick had changed agents for the second time in his brief pro career. So far, the 22-year-old has declined to comment on whether he’s looking to leave Philadelphia. At the very least, the change suggests that he’s looking to make a break from his underwhelming past performance.
The troubles began during the 2016 WHL playoffs when the 17-year-old suffered a sports hernia injury that required offseason surgery and caused lingering complications. Patrick was limited to just 33 games with the Wheat Kings in his draft year. He put up 46 points, but also missed the opportunity to showcase himself at the 2017 World Junior Championship.
Even without a full body of work, NHL Central Scouting ranked Patrick first among North American skaters in the 2017 draft class. It was a surprise when the New Jersey Devils selected the top-ranked European skater, Nico Hischier, with the first overall pick.
Signed to his entry-level contract just weeks after the draft, Patrick made the Flyers roster straight out of his first training camp. With a late September birthday, he turned 19 a couple of weeks before making his NHL debut. On October 10, 2017, he scored his first NHL goal in his fourth career game.
He played 73 games that year, finishing with 13 goals and 30 points. He and Hischier (20 goals, 52 points) were the only two players from their draft class to hit double-digits in either category. But he played just nine games before suffering the first concussion of his career on October 24, and missed nine games as he recovered.
His sophomore stats were nearly identical: 72 games played, with 13 goals and 31 points. But his absences were more sporadic — three games missed in October, four over Christmas, one in March and two at the end of the season. All were listed as upper-body injuries — and there was concern about concussions.
Then, Patrick disappeared for 21 months. From April of 2019 to January of 2021, he was away from the team with what was eventually termed migraine disorder. There’s no definitive link between the syndrome and his on-ice head injuries. And when Patrick suffered some hard impact to his head this season, he suffered no significant ill effects.
After one such incident in mid-April, the Flyers did keep him out of the lineup for two games for precautionary reasons. His other two absences were healthy scratches after the team’s playoff chances had already evaporated.
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The third year of Patrick’s entry-level contract ran during his missed season, making him a restricted free agent. With no body of work to take to the negotiating table, he had little choice but to accept the qualifying offer that the Flyers offered. With the minimum 5% increase required off the base salary of his entry-level deal, he received a flat $874,125.
Was Patrick was dissatisfied with that contract? Or are there other issues he wishes to address? Either way, at season’s end he split with Robert Hooper at Octagon Hockey — who boasts a lengthy NHL client list that includes Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche, Matt Murray of the Ottawa Senators and the recently re-upped Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues.
Patrick’s new agent is Rich Evans of Points West Sports and Entertainment. His client list includes Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets and up-and-coming goalie Alex Nedeljkovic of the Carolina Hurricanes, among others.
For now, Evans is taking a patient approach with Patrick’s future.
“I’m just at the stage now where I’m compiling information and trying to ascertain what’s happened in the past,” he told Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer last week. “Once we get that figured all out, then we’ll have a plan for the future.
“At the end of the day, Philadelphia retains his rights,” he continued. “(Patrick’s) a Group 2 free agent, so the Flyers determine ultimately what happens with his rights.
“I’m sure we’ll have further discussions with (general manager) Chuck (Fletcher) about the whole situation. But I would like everybody to take a deep breath at the end of the year, and we’ll work from there.”