The Flyers are 34 games into the season and we’ve had a bit of a chance to take a long look at Nolan Patrick and how he plays. With just 25 games played this season, it’s still very early in his career, but at this point it’s fair to begin to compare him to his peers. Many Flyers fans are under the impression that Patrick is lagging in his point production, and they may not be wrong.
Is it time to begin to worry about the development of the Flyers’ second overall pick?
Before Patrick’s injury last year, he was considered by many analysts to be a shoe-in for the first overall pick in his draft class. His junior production before the injury must not be discounted. With 212 games played and 250 points (including playoffs) for the Brandon Wheat Kings, Patrick was a monster. Over his incredible junior career, he averaged 1.26 points per game (PTS) in the regular season. Similar players in recent history include Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (who averaged 1.26 PTS in the WHL, 1st overall in 2011) and Sam Reinhart (1.28 PTS in the WHL, 2nd overall 2014).
Looking amongst peers, the most obvious candidate for comparison is Nico Hischier. Being drafted last year, Hischier had risen quickly to a consensus top-2 pick, with Patrick holding the other slot. With a stellar performance for Switzerland in the World Juniors, Hischier’s career in the QMJHL ended up being relatively short-lived. In 57 games played, he managed to produce 86 points with a PTS average of 1.51. While it’s difficult to compare performances between leagues, Hischier certainly demonstrated a wealth of potential.
Since being selected 1st overall by the New Jersey Devils, Hischier has performed very well after being slotted into Jersey’s top line, centering Jesper Bratt (himself an impressive rookie selected in 2016, 6th round) and Taylor Hall. Centering that top line, Hischier has played 33 games and has five goals and 15 assists and PTS average of .61. With his line-mates, Hischier has averaged 16 minutes of ice time a night and has produced highlight reel plays like this:
Patrick, on the other hand, has played 23 games, producing seven points – five assists and two goals – for a PPG average of .28 points per game played. Patrick has spent much of his recent time playing on the Flyers’ 3rd line, centering Dale Weise and Travis Konecny. He has at times had flashes of brilliance, like this incredible drop pass to Weise:
Overall, however, Patrick seems to be lagging in offensive performance behind Hischier.
Even though they were often compared to one another before the draft, Hischier and Patrick are difficult to compare directly for several reasons.. Hischier’s linemates are obviously of much higher quality than Patrick’s. Taylor Hall should need no introduction, having played eight productive seasons in the NHL, averaging .85 PTS over his career. He currently has 31 points in 31 games this year. Bratt, in his first year in the NHL, has impressed, registering 23 points in 33 games, for an average of .70 PTS. As has happened with other players, quality linemates can feed into a player’s performance, and help sustain an already gifted player.
Weise has been a career bottom-6 player with less than impressive offensive production. Weise (like Hall) has played 8 years in the NHL. During his tenure, he has averaged an unimpressive .25 PTS in 421 games played (vs Hall’s 484). Arguments have been made that Weise is dragging Patrick’s play down, and that may not be wrong. Weise has little offensive upside and, when paired with a player with little to offer in terms of production, it’s not surprising that Patrick has struggled so far with point production. During Patrick and Weise’s time on the ice together there have been five goals scored. Out of the 246 5v5 minutes of ice time Patrick has been allotted, he has played with Weise for 138 of those minutes.
Recently, Patrick’s other linemate has been Travis Konecny. Drafted 24th overall in 2015, Konecny has impressed many Flyers fans with his speed and physical play. Having only played last year in the NHL, Konecny has 104 games played with 38 points for .36 PTS. In his junior career, Konecny was an offensive dynamo, registering 239 points in 183 games (1.31 PTS). Since playing in the NHL, he has struggled to consistently find that same offensive production. Konecny spent much of his first year paired with Sean Couturier, playing on the team’s third line. During 5v5, Patrick and Konecny have had four goals scored. While Konecny continues to develop and has flashes of brilliance, he is in no way a replacement for linemates like Hall and Bratt.
Patrick’s last most common linemate is Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds has played 9 years in the NHL and has been considered by many to be one of the best power forwards in the game. A gritty player known for scoring goals, Simmonds has consistently scored 25+ goals a year (save for the lockout shortened year where he scored 15 in 45 GP), and has averaged .58 PTS over the course of his NHL career. Having had a bit of goal drought lately, Simmonds has still managed to mostly keep pace with his average offensive production over the past few years. During 5v5, Simmonds and Patrick have only had one goal scored while on the ice together. Simmonds’ goal scoring has tended to happen on the Power Play (PP), which may account for the low overall 5v5 production that the pairing saw. Simmonds only has eight total points in 5v5 situations this year.
As we can see, the players that have been paired with Patrick this year are not on the same level, in terms of skill production, as the players that Hischier has been paired with. On a team that’s struggled to find success on the PP, Patrick has had little chance for success, playing 45 minutes on the PP this year, and failing to register a point in that time. The only player on the Flyers’ second PP unit finding success has been Valtteri Filppula, who has three goals and one assist in 77 minutes played. Hischier has found some success on the PP, playing 78 minutes total this year with three assists and zero goals.
There’s little doubt that Hischier is a very talented player that has outproduced Patrick up to this point in the season, even accounting for games missed due to injury. Hischier produces points at a rate of 2.2 PTS/60 minutes vs Patricks 1.4 PTS/60 minutes. Nico averages about 16 minutes a night compared to Patrick’s almost 12 minutes. Hakstol has seriously limited Patrick’s time even more recently, as Patrick’s line tends to be given the least amount of 5v5 ice time.
Even given the fact that Patrick has had diminishing ice time for the Flyers, he has still not produced offense at a rate on pare with Hischier. In many ways, Patrick has struggled to find himself in the NHL, but it’s hard to blame him while he has so many forces working against his success. None of the players Patrick has been paired with this season have had success in driving offense at 5v5 over the past few months. While he did play a decent amount of time with Simmonds, it’s unlikely that he would see much benefit, as Simmonds seems to be in a slump this year (either because of injury or other circumstances).
As it stands now it’s hard to see what benefit there is in using Patrick like this. He has recently seen his ice time significantly cut, he’s been given linemates that aren’t exactly going to help him drive offensive play, and he’s been given little in terms of a chance at success.
Based on Patrick’s junior career, it’s obvious that he is a very gifted offensive forward. If given a chance like Hischier, one would wonder what his first few months in the NHL could have looked like. As it stands now, it seems like the team is slowly diminishing his opportunities and ice time.
Hextall retains the option of sending him back down to the junior leagues, as the Flyers have until Patrick’s 40th game to decide or forfeit a year of free agency. It’s hard to argue that the Flyers shouldn’t send him back if they continue to pair him with less than ideal linemates, while also cutting his ice time. With a pedigree like Patrick’s, he needs a chance to flourish and, yes, make some mistakes. Patrick has been more and more limited in opportunities, and it’s stunting his development.
In the future, it’s possible that Hakstol will begin to deploy Patrick in better situations. We also cannot forget that the Flyers have many talented offensive prospects that may one day find themselves on a line with Patrick. Juggling linemates recently has added some diversity to Patrick’s pairings and has given some opportunity for chemistry with other players. It may be that he needed some time to adjust to the game, given his return from injury and introduction to the NHL. Only time will tell what’s best but, as it stands now, it’s still great to have a player with as much potential as Patrick offers and I, as a fan, look forward to watching him develop.
This article was a guest article and was written by Matt Angle.