As the 2019-20 season pushed forward into the new calendar year, Alain Vigneault was reticent to discuss Nolan Patrick's status.
Most often, he didn't have an update.
The head coach wasn't apprised of Patrick's recovery process on a daily basis because the young center's migraine disorder was much more in a big-picture state than it was a day-to-day matter.
The Flyers were in a playoff race and the likelihood of Patrick jumping into it began to dwindle. In February, a laser-focused Vigneault was blunt about "moving forward" with the available players.
On Monday, with 2019-20 in the past, Vigneault spoke about a new season. A new season breathes new life and new possibilities. On the wavelengths of a fresh slate, Vigneault spoke optimistically about Patrick's status for the 2020-21 campaign. The Flyers really have no reason to not be positive about Patrick's outlook.
Why not be positive about a 22-year-old and second overall pick who has felt better and better? Patrick never played in the 2019-20 regular season or the return-to-play 24-team tournament, nor was he ever cleared for contact practices. Vigneault has yet to get the opportunity to coach Patrick and has noted it.
Those are not positives but there have been positive signs since then as a new season arrives.
That's the Flyers' focus and Vigneault's focus.
General manager Chuck Fletcher said in September that Patrick was "living mostly a normal life" and had "made a lot of progress since March." Over the offseason, Patrick skated and scrimmaged regularly in Brandon, Manitoba, with a group organized by former Flyer Ryan White. Patrick is now in the Philadelphia area, readying for January training camp and preparing to play in 2020-21.
"What I have been hearing lately for quite some time is that he is in a good place and that he is feeling better," Vigneault said Monday on a conference call. "Just put yourself in his shoes, the anxiety and the stress of all of this, and coming back. I want this to be as smooth and as easy for him; it’s not something that has been easy for him to go through.
"There’s no doubt in my mind that he wants to be with this team. There’s a young man that’s played hockey all his life and I’m sure loves the game, so he wants to get back at it. But first, he’s got to be healthy. Hopefully we get some good news come medicals. Right now, all I’m hearing are good things about him skating, working out and feeling good about himself.”
The Flyers will hold physical examinations on Jan. 3, the first day of training camp in Voorhees, New Jersey. The Flyers will learn around then whether Patrick is cleared for contact, which is the next hurdle. If Patrick is cleared, the Flyers will then closely monitor how his body responds to each day of practice.
To make up for no preseason games before the Jan. 13 start of the regular season, the Flyers plan to scrimmage almost on a daily basis throughout camp. The competitiveness of such a setting would stand as a good test of Patrick's health and readiness for actual games.
"There’s no doubt that the few times that we did see him, you could tell that there’s a tremendous amount of potential there," Vigneault said of last season's non-contact glimpses. "I think we’re all keeping our fingers crossed that he is healthy, that he does pass his physical."
Players often say it's nearly impossible to simulate game action and game shape. Leading up to Jan. 13, Patrick will not have played an NHL game in over 650 days. Patience will be good with Patrick's possible return.
“All I hear are positive things," Vigneault said. "I can just imagine whether you’re Nolan Patrick or Sam Morin, and you haven’t been on the ice in a while, you’re nervous, you’ve got some anxiety, but you’re looking forward to hopefully coming back and being there at the start of camp and at the start of the season.
"Hopefully him and all of our other players, we get the go-ahead for them to participate in training camp and show what they can do.”
Patrick never got the go-ahead last training camp. There's belief he will this time heading into training camp, a noteworthy reason for both Patrick and the Flyers to think optimistically moving forward.
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