Flyers’ Patrick Nearing Return as Deadline Looms

Philadelphia Flyers center Nolan Patrick has made significant progress in recent weeks recovering from a chronic migraine disorder that has sidelined him for all of the 2019-20 season. After an extended absence, Patrick returned to practice last week as a full participant. Although it’s a relief to have him back, trade deadline speculation is rampant as the Flyers find themselves buyers for the first time in four years.

Flyers’ Deadline Plans

As predicted, the Flyers were one of the most intriguing dark horse teams coming into this season, and they are positioned to secure a playoff spot. A new coaching staff, a revamped front office, and a team that has finally started to play up to its potential has Philadelphia buzzing again. After adding some solid pieces, like Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun, and Matt Niskanen to the lineup over the summer, general manager Chuck Fletcher has acquired just the right veteran depth the team needed to go the distance.

Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher
Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher. (Jose F. Morena/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

With the Feb. 24 trade deadline fast approaching, the Flyers could make at least one splash move without sacrificing too much of the future given the rich crop of prospects the club has accumulated over recent years. 

Holding Out Hope for Patrick

In the shadow of the team’s success is Patrick who was dealt an unfair shake entering his third NHL season. Now that he is nearing a return, what exactly are the Flyers going to do at the trade deadline? If the 21-year-old, right-shot center does return to the fold, he adds more depth up the middle, behind Sean Couturier and Hayes. The beauty of getting Patrick back is his ability to play up and down the lineup and on the power play.

Nolan Patrick
Nolan Patrick – November 24, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound forward fills that third line center position perfectly, which could leave Fletcher in a difficult spot at the deadline. How long can Fletcher expect to wait for Patrick to return? If the Flyers want to make some noise in the playoffs this season, they need a player of Patrick’s size and hard-nosed skillset to get them over the hump. Relying on the plethora of younger players who wait in the wings may not be Fletcher’s first option, which means a move to get a big-bodied center in place of Patrick is very possible.

Of course, Patrick will need some serious conditioning in order to get his body into shape, so there’s no guarantee he makes it back to the lineup between now and playoffs. Proper conditioning stints with the Flyers’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, would be the first step on the road to recovery, according to Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault. However, no one is ruling out the possibility that the second-overall pick of the 2017 Draft will soon be back doing what he does best.

Embarrassment of Riches

Given Patrick’s uncertain status, the Flyers’ third-line center position has seen a carousel of young talent brought up to the big club all season long. Right now, rookie Connor Bunnaman is holding down that third-line center slot, but Fletcher has been as fluid as ever bringing other players up from the Phantoms to see their game front and center.

Related: Revisiting the Brayden Schenn Trade

Fletcher, who was named GM just over halfway through last season, has inherited a full stock of promising prospects accrued over the past few years. He is still getting familiar with the wide range of talent gathered during the Ron Hextall era; Hextall was fired as GM last February. Oddly enough, Flyers fans have treated Fletcher’s ability to plug and play the young guns like Bunnaman, 21, winger Joel Farabee, 19, and winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel, 23, as a breath of fresh air. Its been a collaborative experiment between Fletcher and Vigneault that has created a welcome transparency in the workplace.

Decision Time for Flyers

With so much budding young talent, the Flyers face heavy decisions at the deadline. The team has been rolling since the new year, so why mess up a good thing by making a significant move? You could even go as far as to say that the Flyers are playing with house money with only a handful of additions since last season. As the Flyers’ season has progressed, so has the defensive play of their blueliners with the likes of Ivan Provorov, who has become a defensive staple, Travis Sanheim, and Philippe Myers.

Alain Vigneault Chuck Fletcher Philadelphi Flyers
Philadelphia Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault and general manager Chuck Fletcher (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

With chemistry among the defensive corps building, Shayne Gostisbehere is one Flyer who could be moved at the deadline. The offensive-minded defenseman has struggled to stay healthy and has not provided a solid presence in recent seasons. After being a healthy scratch earlier in the season, Gostisbehere has recently been rehabbing from the knee injury he suffered in January and has failed to find his groove. With three years left on his contract, it may not be easy to find a suitor willing to take a chance on him given his $4.5 million cap hit until he rebuilds his value.

The Flyers find themselves in a very unique situation at this year’s deadline. Instead of packing it in and closing up shop, the team has shown signs of being legit contenders. However, the Flyers are one of the few teams that don’t jump out as desperate to make a trade. The structure in which this team has been built from a personnel standpoint insures they will be contenders for the next decade, so there’s no rush to make a sizable deal at this year’s deadline.

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