All of last season, Flyers’ fans watched Nolan Patrick, their 2017 second overall pick, sit aside with an injury. After being diagnosed with a significant migraine disorder last September, Patrick has been working hard on his road to recovery. He was offered and accepted his qualifying offer a couple of months ago. Right before this, he also participated in a pick-up game in Manitoba. Despite being non-contact, there’s always the possibility of an accident while on skates, so this definitely showed his huge strides toward a return.
Most recently, Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Nolan Patrick was doing much better with his headaches as well:
As the history of Philadelphia athletes and their injuries tells us– let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Patrick still has to participate in some contact play before he even thinks about putting on a Flyers’ uniform in some legit game action. Last season, Coach Alain Vigneault stated that Patrick will still have to complete a conditioning stint with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms before returning to the Flyers lineup. If he can come back at full strength and show some semblance of the player he was expected to be, then his time in the AHL should be short. However, what can we expect once he actually can return?
Flyers’ Center Depth
As of how the Flyers’ roster looks now, they have a plethora of guys who can play center. Now, this does not mean that some of these guys should, though. With Nate Thompson and Derek Grant gone, there are now a couple of extra spots in comparison to last season. It’s obvious that Claude Giroux is produces much more while at the wing position, so it would help the team to keep him there.
That leaves the realistic options of reigning Selke award winner Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, Scott Laughton, Morgan Frost, Nolan Patrick, and Connor Bunnaman.
Coots and Hayes are locks to play center on the top two lines this season. On the other hand, Scott Laughton is a Swiss army knife who can play on any line at any position. With that said, not much to worry about with Laughts. However, it gets interesting when you begin to think about the “what-ifs.”
His Main Flyers’ competition
There are a couple of key names already on the roster that will be more important to watch than others. Without bringing anyone else in, the Flyers already have a ton of forward depth. Two names stand out as the biggest competition for Patrick as we head into the season with the roster as it stands today.
Honestly, we saw Connor Bunnaman play well for the team last season. When his number was called, Bunnaman provided the team with a solid spark in the bottom six. He even earned himself a spot in four playoff games, proving his worth to the organization. However, Bunnaman is likely going to be just that- a top AHLer who can help out in the bottom six when necessary. If it came down to it, Patrick should have no problem beating out Bunnaman in camp.
Oooooohhh, this is where things get interesting.
Morgan Frost is a huge X-factor here. We saw Frost come in last season and score a beautiful goal in his first career game. Frost has a knack for just knowing where the puck is. His silky mitts allow him to dance around defenders as well. Despite lacking a bit of physicality and needing to take the next step still, Frost is a huge name to watch during this year’s training camp.
The question here is if Patrick should make it over Frost. This may be one of the hardest decisions the Flyers have to make this offseason. There is a couple of key differences when it comes to comparing these two players, though. Frost should not be buried on the fourth line- we’ll make the assumption that spot should be Laughton’s. Nolan Patrick can work on the bottom lines, which he has done before.
As of now, Frost is projected to be the Flyers’ third line center, sitting between Farabee and JvR. There are enough issues with having JvR on the opposite side of Farabee, but the expansion draft could play a role in this decision. Depending on how the NHL prorates games in the upcoming shortened season, we could see the Flyers play Patrick over Frost just so they do not have to use one of their protected picks on Frost, since he would be protected under the “1st and 2nd year players” clause. Frost definitely SHOULD be exempt anyways, but who knows what the NHL could decide to change at this point with COVID.
How will he perform?
Nolan Patrick has shown glimpses of his potential. If he is available, he should be a great asset to the team. Patrick holds a ton of upside, and has played in the bottom six role before. The Flyers are in a good situation- it’s never a bad thing to have too much depth. However, these crucial decisions could make or break Patrick’s path career moving forward.
Nolan Patrick will obviously not perform to the best of his abilities without talent next to him. However, centering the third line could be a great way to prove his worth. With a seasoned vet like JvR and a budding playmaker in Joel Farbee next to him, he could get the job done. Let’s also not forget to mention how putting Frost in that position could be pointless in itself, as Frost getting bottom six time is not going to provide much for the team.
Again, much of this is speculation. There has been no news on Patrick even returning yet this season, rather just that he’s made improvements. If he can’t go, then the Flyers should let Morgan Frost play and get that experience. However, Patrick would benefit from that position more now than Frost could.
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