If you were the GM of the Philadelphia Flyers, sitting in fifth place in the Metropolitan but within striking distance of a divisional playoff spot, you might look at your team and wonder what it would take to push them into contender status.
The goaltending could use an upgrade, but at this point you’ve pretty much committed to your young blue chip prospect Carter Hart. The defense is led by an up-and-coming Norris contender and grizzled Stanley Cup champion. The forward group is talented, especially with Travis Konecny taking another step this season, but may still be missing a piece in the middle-six. Perhaps a player versatile enough to play both center and wing, with upside to deliver a game-winning performance at any time.
Enter Nolan Patrick, the second-overall pick from 2017 and current long-term injured reserve resident. The young forward hasn’t played all season due to a migraine issue, but GM Chuck Fletcher hasn’t ruled him out for the year. In fact, Fletcher seems to be leaning toward Patrick playing before the end of the season:
I do expect him to play again this year but that’s just my guess. He’s been skating harder. Skated again today. Getting his heart rate up higher. I think he’s feeling a bit better.
I can tell you from the on- and off-ice workouts he’s doing, he is progressing but there certainly isn’t any clear path as to which way this will go. He’s skating at a higher level. I watched him today. His skill level is still there, shooting the puck great. I guess the important thing is when we get to the point where he is feeling well enough to take that next step. He’s been working hard at his conditioning.
Patrick, 21, has struggled with injuries since before he was even drafted. A sports hernia stole several months of his draft year with he Brandon Wheat Kings, likely costing him the first-overall spot and a chance to play for Canada at the World Juniors. Just before going second to the Flyers, it was discovered that he needed another abdominal surgery to repair a second hernia. They took him anyway, and though he would end up being ready for the start of the 2017-18 season, the young forward still missed important time in the summer before his NHL career started while recovering.
In his first two seasons with the Flyers, Patrick played just 73 and 72 games while dealing with more minor injuries. This year’s total will be much lower, if he does get back into game action at all. Philadelphia would obviously welcome him back, even if he did score just 61 points through his first 145 regular season games.
That disappointing total along with his health issues make Patrick a very interesting case to watch as his contract comes to an end this season. A restricted free agent in July, he certainly won’t be getting the same kind of extension that Nico Hischier signed in October. The first-overall pick was locked up by the New Jersey Devils for seven years and $50.75MM. No one else from his draft class has signed an extension yet, as even top talents like Miro Heiskanen and Elias Pettersson didn’t enter the NHL right away.
When Fletcher spoke on the trade market today, he did suggest that the team might not want to push one of their young players out of a roster spot. Patrick though would be an internal addition if he can make it back this season.