Nolan Patrick and Robert Hagg smiled and exchanged handshakes in the Flyers' hallway Sunday after they were told they had made the team’s opening roster. Both guys described their respective meetings with management as “short and sweet.”
Patrick, the second overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft, becomes the first rookie since Sean Couturier in 2011 to make the team straight out of training camp in their draft year.
“It was pretty exciting to find that out and I’m looking forward to the first game,” Patrick said as he follows in the footsteps of his father and uncle who played in the league as well. “It was really exciting growing up. My goal is to play in the NHL, so to get that news is really exciting. I know my family is pretty excited for me.”
Patrick’s father, Steve, played 250 career games, and his uncle, James, now an assistant coach with the Dallas Stars, endured a 20-year career in the league. While Nolan Patrick has the pedigree, he likely won’t match the production of other players selected second overall. Jets winger Patrick Laine scored 36 goals and 64 points in 2016-17, his first season in Winnipeg.
“I think when I get the first one (goal), I think they’ll come," Patrick said. "It’s a tough thing for me. I always start the year slow on the goals, hopefully, I can get a bounce and get that first one out of the way. My main focus isn’t scoring. I’m just trying to hold onto pucks and make plays and be a good defensive player, so that’s what I’m focusing on.”
Patrick, who wore No. 19 with the Brandon Wheat Kings, is ready to shed the No. 64 he’s worn in the preseason. He says he has another number in mind but didn't elaborate.
Hagg’s path to the NHL wasn’t nearly as direct as Patrick’s. The Flyers' 2013 second-round pick spent three-plus seasons, 202 regular-season games, in the AHL before receiving word Sunday his hard work had finally paid off.
“Pretty happy. I was kinda nervous when I walked in there," Hagg said, "but after the meeting, I was extremely happy to make the team. I’ve just tried to simplify everything and not trying to look for the home run play. I just try to get the puck out of the D-zone as quick as I can and just making sure the puck isn't going in our nets.”
With Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov mainstays on the left side of the ice, positioning played a major factor in how Hakstol elected to set up his defense pairings. Outside of Radko Gudas, the Flyers' left-handed heavy defensive corps doesn’t have a right-handed shot on the ride side, and that’s where Hagg’s comfortability and flexibility was a key factor in the decision-making.
“[Hagg's] ability to play the right side or the left side in a 5-on-5 role as well as penalty kill role," Hakstol said, "that versatility is an asset.”
With Patrick and Hagg packing their bags for San Jose, general manager Ron Hextall had to be the bearer of bad news in regards to Flyers' 2014 fifth-round pick, Oskar Lindblom, who has been assigned to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to begin the season.
“It’s not tough,” Hextall said on the move to send down Lindblom. “Oskar did a good job in camp, but right now, the best thing for you and the team is for you to go up there (Lehigh Valley) and play well. He was great. He took it very well. Oskar is a good player and American League time hasn’t hurt one player in the history of professional hockey.”
As it stands, the Flyers' roster is currently at 24, and management needs to make one more additional move prior to the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline when the cap-compliant rosters for all 31 teams have to be submitted to the league office.
To complicate matters, Gostisbehere left Sunday’s game with 11:30 remaining in the third period and never returned (see observations). Hextall listed Gostisbehere with an upper-body injury while also saying, “We’ll know more in the next day or two.” With that, it’s believed Gostisbehere could be evaluated further for any possible concussion symptoms.
With Gostisbehere’s availability uncertain, the Flyers likely will take eight defensemen on their opening four-game road trip to start the season, including rookies Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim, who were healthy scratches in the team’s preseason finale against the Islanders.
“They’re all going to California, probably," Hextall said. "We’ll see.”
Or the Flyers could place one of the team’s veteran forwards, likely Matt Read or Jori Lehtera, on waivers with the option of sending them to Lehigh Valley in the event they clear.
Decisions. Decisions. It’s been this way for the past month. What’s one more day … or two.