In his hometown of Brandon, Manitoba, Ryan White finds himself fervently competing against a player 10 years younger than him.
"I'm trying to stack up against him," White said, "make sure I’m playing good and hard on him and see where I line up against him."
The 32-year-old knows what he sees.
He sees a Flyer.
White played in Philadelphia for parts of two seasons from 2014 to 2016. After appearing in 21 games for the AHL's Manitoba Moose last season, White is looking to continue his playing career. But he also has a growing passion for coaching, a possible avenue in life after playing. Putting together the need to stay ready and his desire to eventually coach, White has helped organize a group of players for scrimmages and on-ice workouts at Brandon Community Sportsplex.
"I started running some skates on Tuesdays for the guys, just so we had somewhere for the pro guys to all skate," White said last Thursday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "We kind of always did that in the past where some of the older guys around town would get the ice and make sure there were enough guys out there to skate. This year, I just took it upon myself to kind of take it to the next level. I don’t know where my future holds. I’ve always kind of had a thing for wanting to coach at some point and I thought maybe I’d give it a shot."
White and the group were happy to welcome a pretty good player in 22-year-old Nolan Patrick. The Flyers' center is from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and is well-known in the Brandon hockey community. He became a ballyhooed NHL draft prospect with Brandon's junior hockey club the Wheat Kings, delivering the city its first WHL championship in 20 years back in 2016 as he starred alongside Ivan Provorov.
Brandon is Patrick's old stomping grounds. Or, still his stomping grounds.
"Any time you’re a Wheat King, you’re always a Wheat King in Brandon," White said. "Everyone knows who you are and we all take care of those guys. Especially when you win a championship, I’m sure he feels pretty comfortable coming back to this city. A lot of people like him around here, he’s kind of a fan favorite around town to be a Wheatie, obviously bringing a championship here.
"The way I got to know him is just through some of the guys that I train with at the gym, like the Tanner Kaspicks and the Jayce Hawryluks, guys like that who played with him in junior and then started bringing him around the gym."
Come December, it will have been a year since Patrick appeared emotionally spent with and visibly frustrated by a migraine disorder in which he called the recovery process “sh---y” and “pretty wavy.” A tiresome and persistent search for answers has resulted in progress, despite Patrick missing the entire 2019-20 season. At this time last year, the Flyers' season was off and running without Patrick, who was diagnosed with the disorder in September 2019 after he had started to experience some symptoms that summer.
While the 2017 second overall draft pick hasn't played an NHL game since April 2, 2019, a span nearing 600 days, Patrick has started "living mostly a normal life," Chuck Fletcher said this September.
"I think he’s made a lot of progress since March," the Flyers' general manager said then. "Until we get him back and get him into a contact situation, it’s probably going to be hard to know exactly when he’ll be ready to go, but he continues to improve. I’m counting on him playing at some point in '20-21. We don’t even know when we’re going to start the '20-21 season; time is certainly on his side in that regard, but he continues to make progress and I continue to be optimistic."
For about six to seven weeks now, Patrick has skated and scrimmaged with White and company in Brandon. The group has consisted of some pro players from the area (Travis Sanheim partook in a scrimmage) and prospects. The scrimmages are not contact-oriented but White said they have been competitive.
And the hard-nosed former Flyers winger said Patrick has fueled the competitiveness.
With a blend of outwork you and wow you.
“The best way I describe him is, one, he’s a Flyer," White said. "When I got to Philly, I remember Ron Hextall telling me, ‘Whitey, we like you as a player, but what we really like about you is you play like a Flyer.’ I didn’t quite understand that at first. A lot of people misconstrue that that’s about fighting and hitting. Really, it’s not — it’s about competing.
"That was the first thing I learned of being in Philly was when you’ve got a captain like Claude Giroux, he’s not going to go out there and run guys over every night, but Claude’s going to want the puck and he’s going to do whatever he can to get the puck. To me, that just runs through the team like wildfire, you’ve got guys like Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds when I played there, these guys who really instilled what a Flyer was meant to be like.
"That’s the first thing I see in Nolan, he brings that — for a skilled guy, his tenacity on the puck, the way he wants it. He’s been in a couple of scuffles here in the scrimmages and it’s just based on his compete level, he just wants that puck more than other guys."
White has played 313 career NHL games between four teams. With the Flyers during 2015-16, he scored a game-winning playoff goal and set career highs across the board in games (73), goals (11), points (16, which he matched in 2016-17), blocked shots (51) and hits (208). He last played in the NHL with the Wild during 2016-17, when Fletcher was the general manager in Minnesota and acquired the forward at the trade deadline from the Coyotes.
White has won faceoffs in his career and dabbles as a centerman. He's not surprised Patrick was a top-two pick in 2017.
"When he does get that puck, that’s the second part of him," White said. "There are a lot of great players out there, but there are not a lot of guys who can really turn it up to that next level. That’s what I see in him in some days, is he’s got that next level. There are pros and there are great players, and then there’s another level of guys who can do some things that you’re like, ‘OK, what’s going on here, how did he do that? Why did he do that?’ I think he’s got another level to his game there, just offensively with the puck, he attacks guys, he tends to put guys in bad positions to expose them, he’s always drawing extra guys to him to get his linemates the puck.
"I think the best part about him is he competes. We’ve been playing these scrimmages, he’s hard in the circle, he wins his faceoffs, he wants the puck, he knows he needs to start with it; sometimes you can’t teach that stuff. There are a lot of great skilled players out there but they need to play with that tenacity and that drive to really get to that next level. That’s probably the biggest thing I notice in him.
"I don’t think the guys really realize how lucky we’ve been to have him out there and pushing the pace. When you’ve got guys like that out there, it definitely makes the tempo better, makes guys try harder and they want to do good against him; you don’t want to get embarrassed by him, you want to measure up against him and see how they stand against a player like that."
Aiming to learn more about coaching and player development, White has been helping former Wheat King and owner of Tru Skills Tyler Dittmer, working with younger kids by holding skates around town. On top of that and facilitating scrimmages, White has also led practices by instructing various drills. He likes to film a lot of it for his own learning purposes as well as exposure of the players/prospects.
"So I’ve been doing a little bit of [the skills work] and then selfishly been running those practices with the pro guys, just to try and get a hang of it, have some fun, see if I like it, and those guys have been super open about it," White said. "I let them have some input in the drills, what we’re doing, what we want to work on. There are a bunch of junior guys out there and there’s also 10 or 11 pro guys out there, and these guys, they all want to get better and that’s the best thing about it. I’m just the guy blowing the whistle and maybe drawing up the drills, but we’re all working together to decide what we want to work on and trying to get better at something every day.
"It’s actually worked out pretty good because I’ve been taping everything and seeing where I’m making my mistakes and trying to learn like that. I guess it’s the process I use with hockey — we’re kind of trained that way with video. I play a game and coach comes in the next day and tells me I did this good, this good and this good, and I’ve got to work on this, this and this. It’s kind of been working out the same way with coaching, how I’m talking to the guys, how I’m running the drills, how the drills are working; sometimes they work a little bit better in my mind than I do get them when the guys do it. It’s been a lot of fun and at the same time, I still love to play and I want to play still, I’m trying to stay in shape.
"It’s weird because I’m the guy skating the team, I never thought I’d be doing that, but it’s making me get in a little bit better shape, too, because I’ve got to keep myself honest and make sure that I can do it, too. It’s been good for me both ways, it’s been a lot of fun. I don’t know where it’s going to lead or what’s going to happen with it, but I just thought instead of sitting on my ass doing nothing during the break, I’d maybe try something new and see what I can do with it.”
Giroux said when Patrick was able to join practice in non-contact fashion during the 2019-20 season, the Flyers' new assistant coaches took notice of his talent. With the group in Brandon, Patrick garners attention.
“Having Nolan out there, it’s been really good for a lot of the younger guys just to see what an elite player is," White said. "We have a lot of great NHLers here from Brandon. The one thing maybe we don’t have is that really top, top-end player. To have a guy like him out there, we’ve been out there for six to seven weeks now skating with him, some things I see him do in practice, it just blows my mind and I can’t imagine what some of these young kids think about it.
“From what I see from him, he’s a good kid, he’s always got a smile on his face, he’s happy to be there. It’s funny because he walks into the rink with his gear on half-dressed all the time, so it’s kind of funny to see an NHL player walk in with his gear on, but it’s great, he walks in with a smile on, he’s great with all the young guys, he’s helping these guys out out there. It’s good to have a good pro out there. A lot of us in this situation, I’ve had some health issues before, it’s therapy getting to go to the rink and just be part of it.
"It’s been good for all of us to have him around and I’m sure it’s been good for him because he keeps coming back and that’s the best thing. We want to keep guys like him around so we can selfishly get better, watch him so the rest of us can get better every day. If we keep getting players like him out there, it drives the game play up and all the guys from around town want to skate with guys like him, so it’s been awesome to have him around.”
White understands the pressures of playing in Philadelphia. He loved the city, its fans and the Flyers' organization.
But as a player that has always had to grind for his opportunities, didn't always have the results go his way, White advises patience with Patrick.
Patience could lead to Philly becoming Patrick's new stomping grounds.
"Honestly, man, I know the Flyer faithful, I know they’re upset that he’s not playing, I know they’re giving it to him for not playing. But you’ve got to think of it in this sense: this guy’s a Flyer, he plays the right way, he plays hard like that all the time. There are going to be injuries, there’s going to be wear and tear," White said. "I think the best thing about this break is some rest. There are going to be a lot of Flyers who are probably at home right now getting some good rest on their bodies and going to be feeling a lot better for next season, and Nolan included. I think that’s the best thing for him right now is just continuing to get better.
"And when he’s going to feel healthy and he’s going to feel good, he’s going to be a great player for them. You don’t go second overall for no reason, he’s got a ton of skill, he’s won a WHL championship, led that team there.
"The kid’s got what it takes to be a great player. As a young player in [the NHL], it’s not an easy league, especially when you’re not healthy. And if you’re not healthy, he’s got to get healthy and then from then on, I think he’s going to be a great player. It just takes time. He’s in a perfect situation with a guy like Claude Giroux who’s going to definitely show him the way. As the way I would see it and I’m sure Chuck Fletcher sees it, hopefully Nolan Patrick’s the next Claude Giroux."