Flyers

Here comes Nolan Patrick, just in time for Flyers

Here comes Nolan Patrick, just in time for Flyers

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When Dave Hakstol was hired on May 18, 2015, to become the 19th head coach of the Flyers, there was an underlying belief that given his collegiate pedigree, Hakstol was the perfect bench boss to handle the team's homegrown prospects.

However, as we’ve seen over the course of three seasons, the progression of a young player doesn’t always continue on an upward trajectory from the moment they start their NHL career.

As he juggles a roster that is now the youngest in the Eastern Conference following injuries to Brian Elliott and Wayne Simmonds, Hakstol appears to be pushing all of the right buttons, including those connected with the organization’s most prized prospect, Nolan Patrick.

Thursday night’s 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets further exemplified that as Patrick scored a power-play goal in his second straight game (see observations). With the injury to Simmonds, Hakstol believed Patrick could slide seamlessly into Simmonds' net-front role on the top unit, and the rookie has yet to disappoint his coach or teammates.

“I think there’s a little less pressure,” Patrick said. “You don’t have the puck on your stick as much. I think my shots are something I need to improve on. It’s kind of nice for me to be there and not try and beat goalies with my shots. I like it there.”

Hakstol recognized early in the opening month of the season that Patrick wasn’t quite ready to handle the role of being a top-six forward, but over the course of an 82-game season, he has gradually given the 19-year-old center more responsibility and Patrick has proved he’s deserving of the coach’s trust.

“His approach, his hockey sense and his intelligence is what gives him an opportunity to be successful in any situation,” Hakstol said. “Each time we’ve been able to give him more of an opportunity, he’s taken advantage of that. Nolan is doing a lot of those little things on a nightly basis — up and down the middle of the rink, playing a good 200-foot game, and the fact he’s taken pride in that is the foundation of his game.”

“He’s been great,” Patrick said of Hakstol. “When I first got here, they made me work for everything. They didn’t put me in situations I wasn’t ready for. Even now, when I’m not playing great, he does what’s best for the team. He’ll hold me back or not put me out there when I’m struggling on faceoffs. He notices that and he’s been huge for me.”

And Patrick has been huge for the Flyers. He’s now scored a goal in three straight games. 

You’re never quite sure when the future will eventually catch up to the present, but with the help of his head coach, it’s coming at just the right time for Nolan Patrick.

How much will Flyers change? Another summer is here for Ron Hextall

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

How much will Flyers change? Another summer is here for Ron Hextall

This is a peculiar time for Ron Hextall.

In one facet, it's his time, precious for a build-from-within disciple who must feel like a kid on Christmas when the NHL draft arrives.

Then again, it's a weird time. Shortly after the Flyers' general manager unwraps his gifts and adds them to the toy bin, NHL free agency hits. Not a time when Hextall likes to play. Quickly, Christmas turns into the first day of school.

It's that time of year again for Hextall. The question is, have the times changed for the GM?

With the Flyers entering Year 4 under Dave Hakstol and looking to take the next step forward, some wonder if Hextall is ready to make free agency his new time. After all, much of the organization's youth is here and contributing, the core isn't getting any younger and the Flyers have more financial wiggle room — thanks to Hextall — with $17.2 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com.

But if Hextall's vision was ever in danger of shifting, an expansion team's marvelous story lent credence to his plan, reinforcing the belief in the way he operates and constructs his own hockey team.

When asked Thursday about the constant chatter regarding his core's clock and the team's youthfulness catching up to it, Hextall spoke with conviction and at length.

"They might have different roles; you almost might not depend on them quite as much because your younger guys are coming up and taking a bigger piece of the pie," Hextall said. "So all of a sudden you don't need one guy scoring 85 points, he can score 75 points or 70 points because we've got these kids coming up that are scoring more and more. 

"That's how you build a team. You don't build a team by having three top players and they go out every power play and they win you games. It's just not the way it works. You saw — Vegas is a good example. They were the best team in the league. Not the best talent, they were the best team. Teams still win. Teams still win. And that's what we've got to continue to build."

So if you were hoping Hextall was tinkering with the thought of making a free-agent splash, think again. He will stick to his guns and always has, constantly stressing the importance of never deviating from the course set at the journey's start.

None of which is to think Hextall won't utilize free agency to improve. He will make additions strategically and judiciously, but doling out money and years to a stud won't happen.

And the moment Hextall reaffirmed his M.O., the pressure picked up.

On all levels.

On Hextall's faith in Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and the mainstays delivering star-like production.

On the young foundation pieces taking heftier strides to lighten the loads for the veterans.

On the scouting and development personnel finding and molding game-changing talent.

And on the confluence of Hextall's motives and ultimate goal.

"We are still the ultimate team sport and I think Vegas proved that to all of us this year. The more we move along here, the more society, pro sports seem to put a spotlight on a star, and that's fine, but that star has got to have his teammates in our sport or you're not going to win," Hextall said. "You look at Washington, they had a lot of really good players in the playoffs. Devante Smith-Pelly. Do they win without Devante Smith-Pelly? A couple guys get all the credit but look what this guy did. We are still the ultimate team sport, we really are."

The ultimate test will be the Flyers proving it themselves.

More on the Flyers

2018 NHL draft profile: Rasmus Sandin, a defenseman Flyers should know and like

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Terry Wilson/OHL Images

2018 NHL draft profile: Rasmus Sandin, a defenseman Flyers should know and like

In the weeks leading up to the 2018 NHL draft, we're providing prospect profiles and how those players would fit with the Flyers, who have two first-round picks — Nos. 14 and 19.

The NHL draft takes place June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. The Flyers have nine picks with two in the first, fifth and seventh rounds and one in the second, fourth and sixth. They do not own a third-rounder as it went to the Detroit Red Wings for Petr Mrazek. The 14th pick conveyed from the Brayden Schenn trade. The final details were Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first-round pick (Morgan Frost) and the 14th pick.

Our prospect profiles will touch mostly on prospects projected to go in the 10-20 range but some may require the Flyers having to trade up to select. We’ll identify those prospects.

Rasmus Sandin

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 185
Shoots: Left
Team: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Scouting report
The Swedish blueliner is a slick skater who looks like a pro with the puck on his stick. The 18-year-old sees the ice extremely well and can shoot and pass with precision.

As good as he is handling the puck, Sandin is also adept without it. He exploits gaps in the opposition's defense and attacks the net when the opportunity is ripe to create more offensive chances instead of simply floating around the perimeter.

His decision to come to North America and play for the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds did wonders in his vital draft year. Sandin's plus-35 rating was best among all OHL rookies, while his 12 goals, 33 assists and 45 points over 51 regular-season games led all first-year defensemen. He also had a strong postseason with 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) in 24 contests.

Sandin isn't the biggest or quickest skater, but he makes up for it in many other ways.

Fit with Flyers
General manager Ron Hextall said the Flyers need to "restock a little bit" on defense given their previous prospects are either with the big club or flirting with making the NHL jump.

"I would be shocked if we don't draft a couple of defensemen," Hextall said Thursday.

Sandin could be an option at both Nos. 14 and 19. He projects to go in that range or possibly a tad later. Hextall's staff likely saw a good bit of Sandin while checking in on Flyers prospect Frost's 112-point season with the Greyhounds.

So Sandin has had the eyes of the Flyers and will have them watching on draft night as defensemen start going off the board.

More on the 2018 NHL draft

Profile: Ryan Merkley

• Profile: Dominik Bokk

• Profile: Noah Dobson

• Profile: Rasmus Kupari

• Profile: Martin Kaut

• Profile: Grigori Denisenko

• Profile: Jesperi Kotkaniemi

• Profile: Serron Noel

• Profile: Joel Farabee

• Profile: Barrett Hayton

• Profile: Isac Lundestrom

• Profile: Joseph Veleno

• Profile: Vitali Kravtso