Nolan Patrick practices again but will he return for a special homecoming?

Nolan Patrick practices again but will he return for a special homecoming?

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — When the Flyers' charter touched down early Wednesday morning, the team was greeted with its first snowfall of the early season. Mid-November in Winnipeg may as well be late January in Philadelphia. Temperatures in the 20s, scarf and glove weather, and cars caked in snow slush.

While Nolan Patrick recognized all the familiar sights of his hometown and was clearly comfortable in familiar surroundings happy to be back to see family and friends, very little changes here in the Canadian midwest. Perhaps more importantly, change for Patrick seems to move just as slowly. 

Just like he did three weeks ago, Patrick was on the ice practicing with his teammates, this time at the Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg. The Flyers' 19-year-old rookie did not have an ounce of enthusiasm in his voice as if he was preparing to play his first NHL game in the area he grew up watching, learning and playing the sport of hockey.

“Anywhere would be nice,” Patrick said. “Obviously to play here would be pretty cool, play my first game in my hometown, but that decision is not really up to me, so I guess we’ll see what happens.”

“I’ll make those decisions on game day,” said head coach Dave Hakstol, which leads one to believe Patrick's return to the ice is now based more on what works best for the team and not anything related to the protocol and baseline testing.

“It’s hard on any player. When you’re out of the lineup for an extended period of time, sometimes more so for a young player. He’s worked hard. He’s done all the things asked of him. Most importantly, he’s got a good group of teammates around him. Those are some of the most important people around him when he is out of the lineup.”

Patrick was quick to remind the Canadian media how he was struggling when he sustained the hit Oct. 24 against the Ducks. In the four previous games, Patrick had contributed just one assist and five shots on net. You can’t expect a player still learning the NHL game and having missed three weeks to be the offensive savior on a team that hasn’t scored a goal in its last 156 minutes of action.

“Hopefully I can contribute when I get back," Patrick said. "That’s something that I need to produce more when I get back. My last couple of games before I got hurt, I didn’t think I played really well. I’ll just try and get into a rhythm as fast I can when I get back.”

This ordeal isn’t much different than Patrick’s final season of junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings when he was in and out of the lineup dealing with a multitude of core muscle injuries. 

“It’s not that frustrating,” Patrick said. “I’ve been through the injury process before so I know how to handle it. I just try and stay positive through the whole thing. I don’t think anyone wants to be hurt. It’s part of the game. Just stay positive throughout the process.”

Patrick circled Thursday on his calendar months ago when the NHL schedule was released, and the Flyers likely wanted Patrick to accompany the team, if anything, just to enjoy his first trip back to the town where he grew up. Eventually, he’ll have that first game in Winnipeg, but for now, it may not be what’s best for a struggling Flyers team searching for offense. 

'Mac' update
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald rejoined the team for the first time Wednesday in Winnipeg. MacDonald hadn’t skated since taking a slap shot off his leg Oct. 21 against the Edmonton Oilers. MacDonald just ditched the crutches the past Saturday, so it doesn’t appear as if he’s preparing to play against the Jets either.

“I’m not sure that’s realistic or not,” MacDonald said. “Just being off for the amount of time I was. It did feel really good, but again, we just have to go through the process of seeing how it feels tomorrow (Thursday), and kind of progress from there and make sure there’s no setbacks or anything.”

GM meeting
General manager Ron Hextall did not accompany the team to Winnipeg as he prepares to join the league’s other GMs in Montreal, where a number of topics will be discussed, including the effect of the new slashing penalty and the changes to the coach’s challenge.

Trade talks are always on the table now that injuries have created some holes on team’s rosters, while other teams are looking to fortify their position, especially after the three-team swap earlier this month that sent Matt Duchene to Ottawa.  

Are Flyers next? How Carter Hart won over his junior GM

Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Are Flyers next? How Carter Hart won over his junior GM

Carter Hart approached Garry Davidson with a message.

For that brief moment, Davidson didn't have to answer his phone, hang up and then wonder.

The general manager's decision was made — and by the teenager who sought him out like a 30-year-old pro.

"Had he not come in and pushed those buttons," Davidson said, "who knows what I would have done."

The Everett Silvertips' 2016-17 season had just ended in the second round of the WHL playoffs. Davidson, the team's GM, was fielding trade call after trade call regarding his goalie.

It felt like everyone wanted a piece of Hart's final go-around in junior hockey.

"In the offseason this time last year, I was already being approached by several teams," Davidson said last week in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "'Would you move Hart?' There were probably six, seven teams that came after us. As a GM, I had to weigh everything out to see how it might work out."

Until Hart, the Flyers' exciting goalie prospect, had a word with him.

Hart was an eighth-round Bantam draft pick of Everett at 14 years old before he signed his WHL educational contract at 15. He eventually turned himself into a record-setting junior goalie and wanted Davidson to know he had goals of finishing what they started.

"Carter came to me and said, 'Hey, I'd love to do something here with my team and my teammates,'" Davidson said. "He came in at 15 and didn't play obviously a lot but was around at 15 and then a regular member at 16 when he was allowed to stay here. When he came in and we had that discussion, then I dug in and tried to see what I could do to make us better."

Hart's plea and the circumstances offered revealing aspects of exactly why the 19-year-old has Flyers fans giddily awaiting his arrival. The competition after Hart's services speaks volumes about his ability in net; yet maybe even more impressive was the loyalty to his team and the maturity behind it.

"That's one of the big things that Carter has always been, old for his years," Davidson said. "He's all about doing things, day in and day out, the right way."

Davidson never imagined what Hart ultimately became.

But he saw the makeup.

"I always liked Carter because I thought he was athletic but I always liked his composure," Davidson said. "He played with a confidence and not on emotion.

"We had a pretty good goalie here, so we just signed [Hart] and said he'll be our No. 2 guy. He came in here at 16 and a month in he sat in my office and said, 'You know what, I think I can be the best goalie here and I'm going to prove it to you.' Not in a cocky way, but just in a confident way. And subsequently he went on to do that."

In more ways than one.

The Flyers' 2016 second-round draft pick became the first goaltender to win the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy (WHL's top goalie) three times, while his 26 career shutouts are tied for the most in Canadian Hockey League history. His WHL-leading 1.60 goals-against average and .947 save percentage this season make him a favorite to win CHL Goalie of the Year for the second time, something no netminder has ever done. He also rewarded Davidson by leading the Silvertips to the 2018 WHL Final, where they lost in six games to the Swift Current Broncos.

While all the accolades surprised Davidson, the success didn't. Not with a kid as detail-oriented as Hart, who with time, grew into his body at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds.

"He made a comment in our exit meeting the other day, 'Oh, we went out last night and I really actually enjoyed a double-patty burger,' and a whole bunch of foods that he wouldn't normally eat," Davidson said with a laugh. "Because he takes care of every aspect — his rest, his eats, his diet, his off-ice workouts. But that's Carter."

Hart's game will test the pro ranks in 2018-19 as he turns 20 years old in August. Given the big club's situation, a season in the AHL seems more than likely.

"That's a decision the Flyers are going to make," Davidson said, advising patience. "It's also a decision Carter will make because it'll depend on his performance and what he does between now and the start of the NHL season in October."

Long odds or not, Hart already has one thing going for him.

He knows how to make a GM believe.

Samuel Morin's future with Flyers grows murkier with torn ACL

AP Images

Samuel Morin's future with Flyers grows murkier with torn ACL

Samuel Morin is taking the long and winding road to the NHL, one that’s now more rugged and elongated than ever.

The Flyers confirmed Thursday that Morin tore the ACL in his right knee when his skate caught a rut on the ice in Charlotte while he was attempting to check an opponent. The injury took place in the first period of the Phantoms' epic five-overtime game against the Checkers two weeks ago.

General manager Ron Hextall told the Courier-Post's Dave Isaac that Morin is facing a nine-month recovery process and that the 6-7 defenseman is “probably out until February” as he recovers from surgery — which Morin will undergo sometime in the near future.

Morin’s 2018-19 season will now be spent rehabbing from injury and utilizing what’s left of the regular season working his way back with the Phantoms.   

The Flyers' 2013 first-round pick is also a restricted free agent after playing out the final year of his three-year entry-level contract. In the five years since he was drafted, Morin has suited up for just three NHL games. 

Expect the two sides to reach an agreement on a one- or- two-year extension rather easily since Morin doesn’t have much leverage in negotiations at this point. Since Morin signed his rookie deal at the age of 18, he also had a five-year (or 160-game) waiver exemption that has now expired.

In other words, the Flyers will no longer have the luxury of shuttling Morin back and forth from Lehigh Valley without exposing him to the rest of the league if they attempt to send him back to the minors.

The Flyers have no choice but to give Morin the necessary time to ensure he’s not only ready physically, but also that his game can be trusted at the NHL level.  

Hextall has preached patience in the deliberate development of the organization’s prospects.

Right now, Samuel Morin is the poster child for that process.