VOORHEES, N.J. — At this point, Nolan Patrick is pushing the extremes of what qualifies as a day-to-day injury.
Patrick, who suffered an upper-body injury on Oct. 24, has made progress — doing individual drills before practice in his yellow “injured” jersey this week.
Both general manager Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol acknowledged the injury, a suspected concussion, has taken longer than originally anticipated to heal. But the Flyers’ rookie isn’t far off from a return.
“It’s taken longer than we thought, certainly hoped,” Hextall said. “But he skated today and everything went good and worked out. Things are good and now it’s a matter of starting to ramp him up. You just can’t go from zero to 60, it’s gotta be zero to 20 and then up. So he’ll go a little harder tomorrow and then hopefully, continues to progress.
“He skated this morning, he’s making progress and it’s a matter of kind of ramping him up a bit every day and hopefully, things continue on the path they’re going right now.”
Since being hit awkwardly into the boards in a home loss to the Ducks, Patrick has missed each of the Flyers’ last six games and will very likely miss the next two, including tonight vs. the Blackhawks.
“It’s always a concern when a player’s out of the lineup but at the same time, there’s people that are here to work with him and we have full confidence that all the right things get done and players work hard to get back in the lineup when they’re able,” Hakstol said.
The Flyers have managed to stay afloat without Patrick, going 2-2-2, but it’s clear the team is lacking the punch and depth Patrick provided. In nine games with Patrick this season, the team has averaged 3.3 goals per game, compared to 2.8 in the six games without Patrick.
Veteran center Jori Lehtera has stepped in for Patrick on the third line, but with a large contract and his best days behind him, it’s easy to see why he was expendable in St. Louis and a healthy scratch to start the year.
“I think Jori’s done a good job for us,” Hakstol said. … “He came in on the left side and did a good job for us and when we needed him up the middle here over the past few games, I think he’s done a very good job in a two-way sense as a centerman for us. And obviously, he’s very comfortable. He’s a veteran player and a veteran centerman in this league."
Lehtera is a fine fill-in, adding one assist in nine games this season, but lacks the playmaking ability that allowed the Flyers to roll four productive lines to begin the season.
“Jori does a very good job down low defensively as well as down low offensively. If you watch carefully, closely, he creates a lot of good puck possession and makes plays in tight spaces so he provides a real strong middle-ice presence.”
So when can we expect to see Patrick back in orange and black? Dealing with concussions is a tricky business, but with two promising skates in the last three days, Patrick seems to be improving.
Improving enough that Hextall wouldn’t rule out a possible return on the Flyers’ upcoming road trip to Minnesota and Winnipeg next week.
Help is on the way
More good news on the injury front for the Flyers as it looks as though Radko Gudas (upper-body injury) has been cleared by the team to return tonight vs. the Blackhawks.
Fellow D-man Andrew MacDonald isn’t far behind, as Hextall anticipates the veteran to begin skating next week. MacDonald suffered a lower-body injury while blocking a shot on Oct. 21.
“Mac sees a doc tomorrow,” Hextall said. “He’s right on schedule. Again, I’m not exactly sure what day we’re at now but he’s at the front end of the 4-6 (weeks) is what we expect. We hope he’s skating next week.”
Brian Elliott will make his first start in eight days. Winger Matt Read and defenseman Mark Alt are healthy scratches.
Forwards: Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Travis Konecny-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Jordan Weal-Jori Lehtera-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl
Defense: Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Goalies: Brian Elliott