A little adversity never hurt anyone.
That’s the outlook Nolan Patrick took coming out of an injury-shortened Western Hockey League season in which he only skated in 33 regular season games. As far as he is concerned, the strength earned battling through that will play a vital role in his continued development down the road.
That’s the kind of stuff you want to hear from the prospective first-overall selection in advance of the 2017 NHL Draft, which is scheduled to get underway Friday night (5 p.m. MT) from Chicago.
“Obviously, you don’t want to be injured during your draft class or any other season,” Patrick said. “At the end of the day, a little adversity for a player my age isn’t the worst thing. I don’t think it affected me as a player. I think, in the end, it made me stronger.
“My family and friends are all coming down for [the NHL Draft] and they’re all excited for it. I’ve been waiting for it for a while now, so it’s going to be an exciting day, so we’re all looking forward to it.”
Heading into Friday’s festivities, Patrick remains the top-ranked player by NHL Central Scouting. It’s a title that has long been associated with the 6-foot-3, 198-pound centre and for good reason.
The son of former NHL forward Steve Patrick – a veteran of 250 NHL games – and the nephew of former NHL defenceman James Patrick – a veteran of 1,280 NHL games – the current captain of the Brandon Wheat Kings has always had strong hockey blood coursing through his veins and exceptional experience helping educate him along the way.
After being selected fourth overall by the Brandon Wheat Kings at the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, Patrick burst onto the WHL scene by notching 30 goals and 56 points in 55 games during his rookie season in 2014-15. That was good enough to earn him the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as WHL Rookie of the Year.
He followed that up with a sterling sophomore season that saw him eclipse the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 61 assists in 72 games before adding another 13 goals and 30 points in 21 post-season contests, leading the WHL in playoff scoring and earning WHL Playoff MVP honours as the Wheat Kings claimed the 2016 Ed Chynoweth Cup. His regular season performance earned him a place on the WHL Eastern Conference Second All-Star team.
Despite managing an impressive 46 points, including 20 goals, in only 33 games – a pace that would have seen Patrick hit the 100-point plateau had he played a full 72-game schedule – the NHL’s top-ranked youngster was obviously disappointed with how his draft year played out.
“I don’t think I played one game at 100 per cent this year,” Patrick said. “I was battling my health a lot, even through when I was playing. It was a tough year for me and I tried to contribute as much as I could, but, in my mind, I never got to the top of my game. It was a tough year that way, but I’m excited to put that behind me and get moving forward.”
Questions about injuries have dogged the hard-working pivot for all of this season, so one can’t blame him for being tired of hearing the same old song each time a question is posed to him. Faced with the frustration of injury, Patrick didn’t let that reality get him down, or worse, break him, in what is one of the most important years in his career to this point. Instead, he kept his head down and continued to find other ways to improve upon himself, knowing a strong work ethic is what will help him not only come back stronger from injury, but eventually help him make the jump to being a full-time, effective NHL player.
“It’s all up to me,” Patrick said. “I’ve got all the resources around me. I just need to keep working hard and hopefully I’ll get there.
“I’ve been keeping up with my rehab. A lot of that stuff gets annoying, doing it over and over again when you’re not really noticing much improvement, but I think, in the end, it has obviously paid off. That’s something I’ve learned.”
Coming into the season, Patrick may have been the clear-cut, top-ranked prospect ahead of the 2017 NHL Draft. But after the year he battled through combined with the season put forth by Halifax Mooseheads forward Nico Hischier, the gap has closed significantly and the jury remains out as to where Patrick and Hischier may hear their name called – be that first overall to the New Jersey Devils, second overall to the Philadelphia Flyers, or elsewhere.
Still, everything circles back to the beginning – a little adversity never hurt anyone and this type of adversity certainly isn’t eating at Patrick.
“When I get to the draft on Friday, I’m not going to be disappointed if I go two, three, four or five,” Patrick said. “I think a lot of people say they don’t care, but they do. I honestly don’t care. I’d be honoured to go anywhere and I’m excited to have this day with my family and friends. I don’t think anyone is going to be more proud of me if I go one or two or three. At the end of the day, I’m excited to be there and it’s going to be a fun day.”
Out in the hockey world, there seems to be little question that it will come down to Patrick and Hischier when the New Jersey Devils step to the podium to open the 2017 NHL Draft on Friday night. As to who hears their name called first, that remains up in the air.
But none of that matters to Nolan Patrick.
“I’ve got my family and friends coming down,” Patrick said. “That’s the most important thing to me – having that moment with them. Obviously, being picked will be exciting but celebrating with my family and friends after is going to be awesome, too. That’s what the main thing is for me.”
Nolan Patrick – Centre
Brandon Wheat Kings
Weight: 198 pounds
Hometown: Winnipeg, Man.
Acquired: Round 1, Fourth overall – 2013 WHL Bantam Draft
2016-17: 33 GP, 20G-26A – 46 points
2015-16: 72 GP, 41G-61A – 102 points
2014-15: 55 GP, 30G-26A – 56 points
2013-14: 3 GP, 1G-0A – 1 point
The 2017 NHL Draft takes place June 23 to 24 in Chicago, Illinois, with coverage provided by Sportsnet beginning at 4:30 p.m. MT.