Nobody has to look far to understand the value in patience with Nolan Patrick.
If one was to conduct a case study on the importance of patience with expectations in the NHL, the Flyers would have two ideal subjects: Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton.
Those two players, as well as the Flyers, were rewarded in 2019-20.
Couturier was a first-round pick (eighth overall) of the Flyers in the 2011 draft and entered the league at 19 years old. Regarded as a smart and responsible center, Couturier took time to develop into the complete player he is now with the Flyers. He didn't eclipse 40 points during a season until his seventh year in the league, when he broke out for 31 goals and 45 assists in 2017-18.
In 2019-20, Couturier won the Frank J. Selke Trophy at 27 years old and in a landslide. It didn't come all together for him right away.
Laughton was a first-round pick (20th overall) of the Flyers in the 2012 draft and made his NHL debut at 18 years old. He played his first full season with the Flyers in 2015-16. He was a healthy scratch toward the end of that regular season, had to be stretchered off the ice after just getting a taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then spent almost all of the next season in the AHL. He found his NHL niche during 2018-19 with career highs in assists (20), games (82) and ice time per game (14:51).
In 2019-20, Laughton won the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy (most improved Flyer) and Yanick Dupre Class Guy Award (character, dignity and respect on and off the ice), while scoring a career-high 13 goals in only 49 games. At 26 years old, he has become a key, hard-working depth player in the Flyers' group of forwards. Going back to 2014, many doubted Laughton's NHL upside.
Patrick, the second overall pick in the 2017 draft, is facing his own NHL adversity. Selected that high, there are immediate and inevitable expectations, only magnified in a passionate sports city like Philadelphia. After making his NHL debut just after his 19th birthday and having a pair of solid seasons, the 22-year-old center missed the entire 2019-20 season as he battled a migraine disorder. In December, he justifiably appeared disheartened as he called the recovery process "sh---y" and "pretty wavy."
"Nolan, he’s been through a lot," Claude Giroux, a first-round pick of the Flyers in 2006, said last month. "You don’t want to mess around with head problems. Obviously we want Nolan back in the lineup, but we don’t want him before he’s 100 percent. He’s going to have a long career, he’s a great player. I still remember practices that we had this year, he came on the ice and some of the new coaches that we had were kind of looking at us like, 'This kid is pretty good.' We want him to get healthy and he’s going to be a big piece for us this year."
Patrick has progressed and recently accepted his one-year, $874,125 qualifying offer as he eyes a return to the Flyers in 2020-21. It's uncertain how his future will develop, particularly with a condition in which Patrick could not predict. But the futures of Couturier, Laughton and many others were once viewed as uncertain.
The positive to the enigma is there was patience.
“I think every player coming into the league is put in different situations, whether you’re a first-round pick or fifth-, sixth-, seventh-round pick, even invited players," Couturier said in July. "You go through some ups and downs as a young player, I think it’s a part of learning, part of adapting to the NHL.
"Most players, when you come out of junior and you’re drafted, you’re a dominant offensive player and then you come to the NHL and it’s the best of the best. You have to adapt and find your game, but it’s no different for any player. Some guys, it takes a little longer than others. I think it’s just important to be strong mentally and know yourself, trust your skills, you know what you can do.
"I think Nolan still has a really bright future, he’s a really skilled player. We can’t wait to have him back with us."
Laughton knows well about the challenges of not experiencing immediate results.
“I think at the end of the day, I say it a lot, but you have to work, you have to work hard and try to get better at your game," Laughton said in July before the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament. "A lot of times in the summer, you try to do little things to help you during the year and take that into the year. Everyone knows how good Patty is; I don’t think there’s any doubt in that. He’s going to be a good player for a long time.
"At the end of the day, coming back into a situation like this when you haven’t played in a while, his health is more important, especially how young he is and how good of a player he is. He’ll bounce back. We’ve been in a little bit of contact. I’m confident in his game and the way he’s progressing.”
Similarly to Patrick, James van Riemsdyk was a second overall pick in the draft. He was taken at No. 2 by the Flyers in 2007 and made his NHL debut as a 20-year-old. He was a role player over his first three NHL seasons, playing 14:03 minutes per game. He understands the pressures and varying paths that come with being the No. 2 selection.
"I think just as you go through things, you start to realize obviously every situation is a little bit unique in that sense — different things like the team that you’re drafted to, the depth of that team, all these different factors come into play, their plan for you, as well," van Riemsdyk said in July. "Some things are within your control, some things are outside of that. There are some injury factors sometimes, some people are quicker learners than others, things like that. There are all these different factors that are coming into play.
"As far as for Patty, coming in at 18 is something that not many guys are able to do. That already speaks a world of him as a player. He was taking steps forward and he’s only going to continue to get better. Right now, taking care of his health is the biggest priority. From there, I think he’ll be able to really spread his wings.
"He’s got that confidence now of having a few seasons under his belt. Dealing with this adversity, he’s going to come out on the other side just ready to hit the ground running. I have confidence in him for when he is able to get back and get in the mix here, he’s going to do special things in his career. I’m excited to see that whole process come together for him.”