When Dave Hakstol was hired on May 18, 2015, to become the 19th head coach of the Flyers, there was an underlying belief that given his collegiate pedigree, Hakstol was the perfect bench boss to handle the team's homegrown prospects.
However, as we’ve seen over the course of three seasons, the progression of a young player doesn’t always continue on an upward trajectory from the moment they start their NHL career.
As he juggles a roster that is now the youngest in the Eastern Conference following injuries to Brian Elliott and Wayne Simmonds, Hakstol appears to be pushing all of the right buttons, including those connected with the organization’s most prized prospect, Nolan Patrick.
Thursday night’s 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets further exemplified that as Patrick scored a power-play goal in his second straight game (see observations). With the injury to Simmonds, Hakstol believed Patrick could slide seamlessly into Simmonds' net-front role on the top unit, and the rookie has yet to disappoint his coach or teammates.
“I think there’s a little less pressure,” Patrick said. “You don’t have the puck on your stick as much. I think my shots are something I need to improve on. It’s kind of nice for me to be there and not try and beat goalies with my shots. I like it there.”
Hakstol recognized early in the opening month of the season that Patrick wasn’t quite ready to handle the role of being a top-six forward, but over the course of an 82-game season, he has gradually given the 19-year-old center more responsibility and Patrick has proved he’s deserving of the coach’s trust.
“His approach, his hockey sense and his intelligence is what gives him an opportunity to be successful in any situation,” Hakstol said. “Each time we’ve been able to give him more of an opportunity, he’s taken advantage of that. Nolan is doing a lot of those little things on a nightly basis — up and down the middle of the rink, playing a good 200-foot game, and the fact he’s taken pride in that is the foundation of his game.”
“He’s been great,” Patrick said of Hakstol. “When I first got here, they made me work for everything. They didn’t put me in situations I wasn’t ready for. Even now, when I’m not playing great, he does what’s best for the team. He’ll hold me back or not put me out there when I’m struggling on faceoffs. He notices that and he’s been huge for me.”
And Patrick has been huge for the Flyers. He’s now scored a goal in three straight games.
You’re never quite sure when the future will eventually catch up to the present, but with the help of his head coach, it’s coming at just the right time for Nolan Patrick.