Revisiting Flyers’ Decision to Draft Patrick Over Makar

Let’s bring it back to the 2017 NHL Draft. The Philadelphia Flyers had jumped up in the draft lottery and were picking second. It was widely accepted that Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick would go one and two by many, except that wasn’t the case inside the Flyers’ organization.

In an appearance on the Cam & Strick Podcast, former Sr. Vice President of Hockey Operations, Bobby Clarke, spoke on the decision that led to the Flyers selecting Patrick second instead of Cale Makar. He is quoted as saying, “we get the second pick of the draft, and we end up drafting Nolan Patrick. None of our scouts wanted Nolan Patrick, […] they wanted Makar.”

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

This is no knock on Patrick since he has struggled with injuries in his young career, and not a shot at former general manager Ron Hextall because many in his position would have done the same thing. This is a missed opportunity that was sitting in front of the team. Of course, you can also chalk it up to hindsight, but every scout was all in on Makar, and he could’ve changed the organization.

We will go through how each player’s career has progressed since being drafted, the impact on each of their teams, and the moves that have resulted from the decision.

Career Paths of Patrick vs Makar

Since the 2017 draft, the career paths of Patrick and Makar have gone in seemingly opposite directions. Patrick started his career immediately and judging now, may have been rushed. Though, nowadays, top picks generally seem ready to make the jump to the NHL the season after being selected. Makar, on the other hand, took two seasons to develop and join the Avalanche in the playoffs in 2018-19.

Nolan Patrick

Beginning with Patrick, the second overall pick made the Flyers in his first season, posting a respectable 13 goals and 30 points in 73 games in his rookie season. This was a solid start, as you can’t expect every top pick to come in and be a point per game right away. The next season saw his ice time increase by 1:22 per game, scoring 13 goals and 31 points in 72 games this time.

Patrick’s career really took a turn for the worst at a critical point. Instead of keeping the momentum and reps that he would have got if he stayed healthy, instead, he suffered a season-long injury that kept him out the entire 2019-20 campaign. Patrick wasn’t the same upon returning, as he recorded just four goals and nine points in 52 games the following season, accompanied by a minus-30. He was then traded to the Vegas Golden Knights this past offseason, a trade that we will go into more in a bit.

Cale Makar

Makar has been a star since entering the league. As I mentioned, he joined the Avalanche for their 2-18-19 playoff run and recorded six points in 10 games. The following season, his rookie year, Makar won the Calder Trophy as the best rookie, also receiving votes for the Norris Trophy, finishing ninth.

Makar’s name continues to be all over trophy ballots, as his second season in the NHL, 2020-21, he finished at a point per game, making the all-star team, second in Norris Trophy voting, 12th in Hart Trophy voting, and 14th in Lady Byng Trophy voting.

Cale Makar Colorado Avalanche
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

To this point in his career, Makar is two points under a career point per game as a defenceman with 128 points in 130 games. After his first taste of NHL action in the postseason in 2018-19, he has produced at a point per game in the playoffs as well, recording 25 points in 25 games. With 16 goals on the season in 29 games this year already, the sky’s the limit and he continues to get better.

A career comparison of the two shows that Patrick has played the fourth-most games (206) among 2017 NHL draft picks, while he’s 11th in points (73). Patrick has the second-worst plus/minus (minus-35), and at the other end, Makar has the best (plus-45). Makar has played the 14th most games but has the third-most points, by far the best in the draft, as a defenceman.

Impact Patrick & Makar Have Had on Their Teams

Just like the careers of the two players, the direction of the Flyers and Avalanche are moving in different directions as well.

Injuries have been the biggest theme in the playing career of Patrick, and that not only affects him but also his team. In the five years he has been in the league, the least amount of games he missed in a season has been six, coming in a shortened 56-game season. A team can generally handle a player missing 10 or less games a season, but it isn’t ideal.

Patrick has missed a total of 122 games since entering the league. It’s no wonder why his career has gotten off to a shaky start, as he is never able to find traction and establish himself. Even after the Flyers moved on from him and he hoped for a fresh start, Patrick has missed 30 of 39 games this season.

Related: Flyers’ Interest in Lawson Crouse Shows Team Has Eyes on the Future

Injuries as frequent and serious as the ones Patrick endures every season can take a toll on the team he plays for as well, since rosters are built and moves and signings are made around expecting everyone generally stays healthy. With constant injuries, players may have to be called up too early or put in positions where it’s much more difficult to succeed.

Despite some time missed by Makar each season, it hasn’t slowed him down. He is as consistent and elite as they come with production. He can score goals, he can pass the puck, he can walk the blue line and get shots through, all while being an underrated defender in his own end. As a defenceman, Makar has recorded more takeaways than giveaways which is very rare. He’s not the biggest or heaviest defenceman, but he can use his stick very well and his footspeed isn’t matched by many.

Moves That Resulted From Drafting Each Player

Each of the teams could have gone in different directions if they didn’t draft who they did in 2017. The Flyers would have a legitimate number one right-shot defenceman who can put up points from the back-end. This includes quarterbacking the power play.

The search for a right defence resulted in the Flyers going out and acquiring Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen this past offseason after moving Shayne Gostisbehere after he fell out of favour in Philadelphia and every other team knew it. With someone like Makar in the system and then on the team, the Flyers would have been able to trade Gostisbehere when his stock was higher and got a good return. Instead, they traded him after there was a disconnect, resulting in a hole that needed to be filled and a second and a seventh-round pick leaving as well.

Ryan Ellis, Philadelphia Flyers
Ryan Ellis, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Whether it was Ellis or Ristolainen, in total, it cost the Flyers a first-round pick, a third, Patrick, Philippe Myers, and Robert Hagg. One has played four games and hasn’t done what he was brought in to do, play on the top pairing with Ivan Provorov and help out on the power play, while the other is on an expiring deal with an uncertain future with the Flyers nowhere closer to competing for a Stanley Cup.

Makar emerging as a top defenceman in the league in Colorado has allowed them to build the back-end and team around him. He is turning into a generational talent and locked up for another five years after this. The window is open for as long as Makar and a few other key players are a part of this team.

Production from a defence group can be hard to come by, and Makar single-handedly is producing more goals than many NHL clubs this season as a collective unit. The Avalanche’s power play is covered, the top right defence is covered, and offensive and defensive production is covered, all things the Flyers have been searching to fill.

Nobody can go back and change the decisions made, but the choice to select Patrick over Makar has resulted in a series of changes and events that has the Flyers contemplating a rebuild or another retooling, while the Avalanche chase a Cup.

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