Golden Knights Can Give Nolan Patrick the Chance to Reach Potential

Vegas Golden Knights forward, Nolan Patrick, is probably sitting in his Vegas home right now, looking out of his window at the busy Vegas strip in the distance. He’s likely wondering where things went sideways. What happened? Could things change? It has certainly been a disappointing beginning to his career. Very different from how it should have been.

The United Center in Chicago was buzzing in June 2017. The NHL was about to welcome a group of young hockey players into its prestigious ranks. Philadelphia Flyers fans, in particular, were salivating. Luck had thrown them a bone. It just so happened that the Flyers, with only a 2.4 percent chance of landing a top-two pick, found the second-overall selection firmly in their hands. Incredible.

The NHL Central Scouting Bureau had released their final prospect rankings for the 2017 draft in April — two months prior. The Brandon Wheat Kings center Patrick was pegged as the best prospect in a pool of players that also included Nico Hischier, Cale Makar, Elias Pettersson, and Nick Suzuki.

When the Devils announced that they were taking Hischier first overall, many were surprised. The Flyers stared at the draft board and collectively rubbed their eyes. They looked again. Could it be? It was real. The Flyers organization, the fan base, the milkman and his wife, everyone in Philadelphia was overcome with joy. They would finally have more talent at center, and The Liberty Bell would soon be ringing, freeing the city of its lengthy Stanley Cup drought. Or so they thought. Against ridiculous odds, the franchise had a consensus No. 1 draft pick fall right into their laps. But the partying would stop there.

A Woeful Beginning for Patrick

The first four years of Patrick’s career have been underwhelming. He currently has 201 NHL games under his belt, with only 31 goals and 40 assists to his name. Not exactly what you would expect from a No. 1 prospect. Injuries have beleaguered the Manitoba native, as he has never really been able to get his “juices” flowing, or build momentum in his development.

Nolan Patrick Flyers 2017
Nolan Patrick, former Philadelphia Flyer (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

How can a player take that next step, professionally, if a physical ailment is constantly nagging at him? Actually, forget “next step,” it’s more like, “first step.” While other young phenoms shoot out of the gates at full speed, Patrick has tied himself into a pretzel and face planted. But his biggest derailment wasn’t even a broken bone, or a torn ACL. No, the condition that has sidelined him the longest has come in the form of a migraine disorder. It was responsible for keeping him out of action for over 17 consecutive months in his young career. In fact, he missed the entire 2019-20 season because of the condition. Talk about bad luck.

In July 2021, the Flyers, Nashville Predators, and Golden Knights pulled the trigger on a three-team trade that saw the hapless center relocate to the Nevada Desert. But was this going to work? Well, recently we have seen players benefit from a shakeup. For example, promising young winger, Anthony Duclair, has been a revelation since joining the Florida Panthers after several seasons of bouncing around the league like a ping-pong ball. Things could certainly get interesting.

So, here we have a player who is full of promise but has been relegated to the shadows, only to potentially step out and cause serious havoc in a new uniform? Sounds like we may need to talk Christopher Nolan into lending us his movie title, “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Golden Knights Must Promote Patrick

Two years before Patrick crossed the stage at the United Center as the second-overall pick, a now familiar face had his name called at the BB&T Center in Sunshine, Florida. He was also the second player to be taken in his draft and played the same position: center. Any guesses? You bet. Your new superstar, Jack Eichel. Seeing a highly successful contemporary who was in a similar position as him may reignite the fire in Patrick’s eyes. It could also act as a catalyst in his emergence as a predominant NHL player, potentially even a star.

Related: Nolan Patrick Is Reunited With The Smartest Hockey Mind He Knows

Other favourable forces are at work here too. Namely, Golden Knights general manager, Kelly McCrimmon. When Patrick was lighting up the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the aforementioned Wheat Kings, scoring 102 points in 72 games in the 2015-16 season, he did so under McCrimmon. A reunion with the former owner, general manager and coach of the WHL hockey team could propel the center to new heights.

Nolan Patrick Vegas Golden Knights
Nolan Patrick, Vegas Golden Knights (Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

So, what does this all come down to? Patrick’s confidence is surely shaken. In fact, he has never really had the chance to build it. There are three important elements here, that together, could act as pieces to a launching pad for his ascension to unfamiliar heights: his new team, his relationship with McCrimmon, and the presence of Eichel.

Here is the crucial, fourth element: he needs to get big minutes on the first line. The importance of this move cannot be exaggerated. Going forward, William Karlsson will be a mainstay at center on the second line, while Chandler Stephenson will run the third line. Why not pump Patrick up and give him minutes with talented teammates, Max Pacioretty (when he returns from injury) and Mark Stone? Allow him to keep the seat warm for Eichel. Let him get his rhythm going and get his confidence up.

We know that thoughts yield to emotions. A superstar NHL player does not simply think himself into his stardom. He needs to feel the emotions and imprint those experiences into his mind. He gathers the emotions from successful experiences. Those experiences come from quality repetitions. It doesn’t get much more quality than playing between Pacioretty and Stone.

Put Patrick on the first line for the next few months and our movie title, “The Dark Knight Rises,” may just get swapped out for, “A Star Is Born.”

Let’s do this, Vegas.

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