All questions leading up to the 2017 NHL Draft have been answered at long last. 217 picks have been made, and 217 young men will soon set out on a journey they all hope will one day culminate with a call-up to the best hockey league in the world.
For the general managers and front office personnel tasked with improving their teams at the draft, the hard part is over. For members of the hockey media, who have all spent countless hours researching and discussing potential picks and moves, the hard part is over. For Nolan Patrick and the other 216 young players, the hard part has just begun.
Nolan Patrick, selected second overall by the Philadelphia Flyers, is one of those 217 young players. He is one of very few of this year’s prospects believed to be ready to play in the NHL in 2017-18. By all accounts, it is highly likely he will begin the season with the big boys.
After more than a month of wondering who their team would get with the second pick, Flyers fans have their answer. What is their team going to get from the second pick? We won’t have that answer for several months, but we can at least examine some expectations.
Nolan Patrick’s Initial Role
One surprising domino to fall at the draft was the departure of Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues via a late first-round trade. While Schenn’s exit may be received in many different lights by Flyers fans, one undeniable truth regarding the trade itself is that a young player is going to step into his role.
Schenn was a top-six forward who bounced between center and wing. He was also a power play nightmare, recording 17 of his 25 goals on the man advantage. The Flyers will likely give Patrick first crack at filling Schenn’s skates among the top six and it’s reasonable to expect he will start the season as the second-line center with veteran Wayne Simmonds on his wing.
From there, the biggest question surrounding Patrick’s role is where he fits in on special teams. One thing to keep an eye on is how many right-handed shots the Flyers have among their top forwards. Patrick, Simmonds, Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny and Jordan Weal (an unrestricted free agent as of this writing) are all right-handed. This figures to create something of a logjam on the power play, where only Jakub Voracek, among Philly’s top-scoring forwards, is a left-handed shot.
As important as passing and shot angles are on the power play, the Flyers will have to mix and match some of their personnel on both units. Patrick probably will not crack the top unit right off the bat, but with his size he is a great candidate to post up in front of the net on the second. Look for him to cash in on rebounds in front of the goalie as well as opportunities to redirect the puck on point-shots.
Flyers’ Penalty Kill Needs Help
Scouts have raved about Patrick’s two-way abilities throughout the draft process, and the belief is that he will excel in all three zones. If he isn’t seeing a significant amount of ice time in scoring situations, he can account for that by giving the Flyers a reliable penalty killer.
The two forwards with the highest average short-handed ice time in 2016-17 were Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde. Bellemare is now a Vegas Golden Knight and VandeVelde is an unrestricted free agent the Flyers should not bring back.
Even with those guys, the Flyers ranked 21st in the NHL in penalty killing percentage at 79.8. That number, among several others, needs to improve in 2017-18. Philly needs a few players who can batten down the hatches in short-handed situations and give the team life. This is where Nolan Patrick can step in and prove himself in a pivotal part of the game.
Killing penalties may not be the most glorious contribution a player can make, but it is just as important as any other facet of the game. If Patrick comes into the lineup and makes his mark by doing the things that can go overlooked, he will earn more opportunities to do the things everybody notices. Flyers fans should be absolutely ecstatic about the versatile game their newest player will bring to the table.
Calder Trophy Consideration?
As excited as Flyers fans should be regarding Patrick’s arrival, they should also be urged to take his development in stride. We have a tendency, as sports fans, to become spoiled by what other players and teams are doing. The impacts made by players like Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Connor McDavid in their first full NHL seasons have set the bar for rookies at an unfair standard.
Nolan Patrick is not going to score 40 goals or record 100 points in 2017-18. The belief that he is already prepared to take on the challenges of the NHL should not be accompanied by the expectation that he will immediately dominate the league. That said, he finds himself in about as favorable a situation as a rookie could ask for by landing with the Philadelphia Flyers.
There is a solid core of talent around him comprised of both veterans and youngsters. He will have the opportunity to contribute to a team rather than being asked to lead it, and he will have the chance to grow alongside his young teammates. And while the Flyers’ current roster will have a positive impact on his long-term development, what it does for his statistics as a rookie remains to be seen.
Because he will not be asked to carry the load offensively, and will likely be used in a variety of different ways, gaudy scoring numbers may not be part of Patrick’s rookie campaign. We should expect him to score between 15-20 goals, with 25-30 assists as well. In most years, numbers like that are good enough to be considered for the Calder Trophy, although we have no way of knowing what other prospects from around the league will come up and make an impact in 2017-18.
For what it’s worth, a 50-point season would’ve ranked him fifth among all Flyers in scoring in 2016-17, which isn’t bad at all.
In any case, how we end up defining Nolan Patrick’s first few seasons should not be based solely on his statistics. His job is to make the Flyers better in all aspects of the game, both now and in the future. And Flyers fans can rest easy knowing he will accomplish both of those tasks.