There’s really one word that can sum up this Philadelphia Flyers offseason..
It was chance that vaulted the Flyers from the 13th overall pick in the draft to the second overall pick. It was chance that Nolan Patrick fell victim to injuries during his draft year, and it was chance that the New Jersey Devils liked Nico Hischier just a little more than Patrick.
Patrick belongs to the Philadelphia Flyers. Now, the focus shifts on the chance for him to crack the roster once training camp opens.
Physically, Patrick seems ready for the NHL. Skill wise? Several draft analysts say he’s ready. But what are the actual chances of him making the roster?
Since the 2011 draft, only a pair of top two picks – Sam Reinhart (no. 2 overall in 2014 to Buffalo) and Ryan Murray (no. 2 overall in 2012 to Columbus) – did not make the team for a full season in their draft year. Reinhart was given a nine-game tryout before the Sabres sent him back to the Kootenay Ice. He notched a single assist during that span.
“First things first, Nolan is no different than any other player (Robert Hagg) or (Sam) Morin or (Travis) Sanheim or (Phil) Myers or (Cole) Bardreau or anybody else, Taylor Leier,” Hextall told the Courier Post. “Those guys all have to come in and show us they’re good enough to not only make the team but make us a better team. First things first, Nolan’s got to come in and he’s got to do the best job he can do, perform well to make the Flyers.”
I took a look at each draft going back to 2011 to see how the duo of top picks fared when it came to making the opening night roster in the same year they were drafted. History favors Patrick, but before going any further, I want to include a few disclaimers.
The data here is very raw. It includes twelve picks, four of which I’m disregarding because it’s unfair to pit generational talents like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jack Eichel against Patrick. That isn’t a criticism against him; Patrick has tons of potential, but his ceiling is the roof just doesn’t touch the foursome previously mentioned.
Also, there are extenuating circumstances with each draft pick such as the talent around the player, coaching, usage and playing style. To go into each and every pick would be futile because each situation is different. This is just a surface look.
So let’s start narrowing it down by position. After eliminating the generational talents, we’re left with Reinhart, Nathan Mackinnon, Aleksander Barkov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as centers taken with the top two picks. Let’s dive a little further into Reinhart’s story.
After Reinhart went back to the WHL, he put up 65 points in 47 games. He made the Sabres’ roster the year after and totaled 42 points (23 goals, 19 assists) in 79 games. He averaged an ice time of 16:50 and put up suitable possession numbers for a rookie.
Mackinnon made the Avalanche roster out of camp and put up 63 points (24 goals, 39 assists) in 82 games while averaging 17:21 of ice time per game. Aleksander Barkov, who was the no. 2 pick behind Mackinnon, also made Florida’s roster and posted 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists) in 54 games. Similar to Mackinnon, he averaged 17:06 per game. That’s 36 points when prorated to a full season.
Finally, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – the only other WHL center to go in the top two – earned a spot without having to go back to juniors. Nugent-Hopkins averaged 17:36 per game while putting up 52 points (18 goals, 34 assists) during his rookie season.
Out of the four mentioned, two were returned to their junior teams. The other two made the roster. Where does that place Patrick? It all comes down to him. There is a spot for the taking, and Patrick is more than capable of donning the orange and black sweater in October.
Patrick will have a bit of an uphill battle as the lone teenage prospect with a shot at making the roster.
“He’s got to do the same thing as all the other kids,” Hextall told Philly.com. “He’s got to come in and show us that he can help make us a better team and that it’s the right thing for us. It’s truly that simple. We’ve got numbers. We don’t have to have him. We’ve got other kids who can play and we have veterans, so we’re in a good position with him.”
It’s important to keep expectations level, regardless of whether or not Patrick makes the roster out of camp. Should he make it, he’ll likely start on the third line and ease his way into the league. Based on ice time alone, the aforementioned players were given top-six minutes. Patrick, in all likelihood, will receive third-line minutes should he make the roster.
His ice time will also likely have an affect on his production. To expect a 60-point season out of him would be a little too much. Should Patrick total more than 40 points this season, I’ll consider it a successful rookie year, production wise, for him.
If, for whatever reason, he gets sent back to the Brandon Wheat Kings, it’s another year of top-line minutes and hopefully a full season. As we’ve seen, another year of junior leagues benefited two certain Flyers rookies last year.
However, all signs are pointing to Patrick landing in Philadelphia for the upcoming season. He turns 19 in mid-September and only missed the draft cutoff in 2016 by about a week, so Patrick is more comparable to a Provorov that made the roster last season than the Provorov that was sent back to the Wheat Kings two years ago after they drafted him.
He’s got the skillset to hang with this league, the seasoning and maturity to not fall flat on his face and an already stacked pedigree at the junior level. He was, however, injured for much of last season, and any decent hesitation in his game could sway Hextall to allow Patrick to play one more season in the WHL.
Odds are in his favor, though, and there is certainly room upfront for a player with his talent this season. We think Patrick will be a member of the Flyers forward unit come October. He’s as close to a lock as a rookie can get under Hextall’s regime.
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