The offensive skills have always been there for Nolan Patrick. The Flyers second overall pick in last June’s draft is a naturally gifted player who posted 158 points in 105 games over the last two seasons in the Western Hockey League.
However, the scoring pace in juniors hasn’t immediately translated to the NHL. Through his first 36 games with the Flyers, Patrick has just three goals and six assists.
While he would have preferred more offensive production through the first half of the season, Patrick’s top priority was not scoring a boatload of goals or dishing out tons of assists. The 19 year old knew that he needed to prove his mettle in all situations like defense, on the penalty kill and at the end of close games.
“You want to get the trust from the coach that he can throw you out there at any time,” Sean Couturier said following Thursday’s 3-2 victory over Toronto. “I think he’s starting to earn that.”
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He’s done so by reducing his mistakes with the puck and turnovers in the neutral zone and creating scoring chances with linemates Wayne Simmonds and Jordan Weal. He is doing a better job of knowing when to jump up in the play and when to take less risk.
“He needs to keep moving forward in terms of building the confidence into his game offensively and in all three zones,” Hakstol said. “If you look at over the last 10 games he has been a good consistent player for us. We need to keep him pushing on the envelope.”
Patrick was rewarded for his hard work when he finally ended a 24-game goal drought against the Maple Leafs with a pure hustle play. After hitting the side of the net with a shot, Patrick chased down a Toronto defender who collected the rebound, stole the puck and whipped it past goalie Frederik Andersen.
“[I was] slumping for a while there,” Patrick said. “I tried to forget how many games it was in a row without a goal and just kept playing. I thought I was playing some good hockey lately, and I knew it would come.”
The biggest difference in his performance, though, has been in his own zone. Through the first 22 games, he was a minus-4. In the last 16 (including Sunday's 2-1 overtime win in Washington), Patrick is a plus-2.
It’s taken half a year, but Patrick is beginning to develop into a reliable two-way player in the NHL.
“He has really bore down on his defense,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “As an offensive player, you have to show your coaches and teammates you are strong on defense as well. He has had a great balance of playing defensively and being responsible defensively.”