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Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

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Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

Nolan Patrick's rookie season can be split into two halves, but his performance down the stretch has caught the attention of one national pundit.

NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson, who played 12 years in the league, selected Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player for the 2018-19 season during Friday night's "NHL Tonight."

Johnson scored 375 points in 661 NHL games from 1996-2008 and last played in the league during the 2007-08 campaign with the St. Louis Blues.

Behind Johnson's reasoning for picking Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player was the Flyers' center's two-way instincts, ability to finish, size and a full summer of training ahead of him.

"We know his injury history, his lack of proper training, his lack of ability to hit the gym properly," Johnson said, "and he's still strong on the wall. That's only going to get better as he matures physically."

For what it's worth, Connor McDavid was NHL Network's No. 1 breakout candidate for the 2017-18 season — that was a bit of a softball.

As for Patrick, the center joined "NHL Tonight" on Friday to discuss the honor and also provide an update on how his summer is going.

"Coming off that surgery last year," Patrick said, "I had a slow start. It took a while to get my body back to where I wanted it to be. I missed two summers of training. It's been the first summer for me in a while that I've been back in the gym."

Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, finished with 13 goals and 30 points in 73 regular-season games. He missed nine games in October and November because of a concussion and spent most of the first half of the season getting his mobility back after undergoing offseason abdominal surgery. In fact, he's lost his past two summers of training because of surgery.

Prior to his final junior season and his draft year, Patrick underwent sports hernia surgery. Then 10 days before the Flyers drafted him, he went under the knife again.

Now he's fully healthy and has a full summer of training.

"First time I can get after it," Patrick said during the team's exit interviews in April (see story). "It's going to be a big summer for me. I'm not satisfied with how the year was or how my year was, so I'm looking to take big steps here."

Once Patrick began feeling healthier, he started getting a bigger role with the Flyers. He was elevated to the team's second-line center and stuck. He also found a role on the power play.

The 19-year-old posted 17 points in the final 25 games, which translates to a respectable 0.68 points per game clip and 55 points over an 82-game schedule. Not too bad for a rookie who couldn't actually train during his previous two offseasons.

"My coaches pushed me throughout the year. Then they gave me more opportunity," Patrick told the NHL Network. "Jake Voracek was huge for me. He thinks the game so well. The puck protection that guy has, you just got to get open for him.

"I think my body also just felt better as the year went on. I kind of took a while to get my skating legs there, so I think in the second half, I had a little more pep in my step."

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With back-to-back wins, are Flyers finally starting to mature?

With back-to-back wins, are Flyers finally starting to mature?

When Jori Lehtera was sent off the ice for a five-minute boarding major and a 10-minute game misconduct Wednesday night, the most loyal followers of the orange and black had every reason to believe the Flyers were entering their self-destruction phase once again.

After all, we had seen this storyline play out on numerous occasions already this season.

Forced to kill off a five-minute power play to the NHL second-ranked power play should have doomed this team, but against the Bruins, something was different.

“We’re starting to show some character and maturity, even playing with a lead we’re a little bit more comfortable now,” Sean Couturier said after scoring a natural hat trick in the Flyers' 4-3 win over the Bruins (see observations). “We’re doing some little things right.”

A lot of those little things have been resolved finally through their penalty kill, in which the Flyers successfully killed off nine straight minutes of power-play time, including nearly six minutes in a hard-fought third period. For those who believed assistant coach Ian Laperriere should take the fall for the PK’s horrific start this season, interim head coach Scott Gordon begs to differ.

“Lappy has done a great job as far as the pre-scouting. You guys don’t see that,” Gordon said. “He’s been on target every single time. As far as the aggressiveness, that’s the one thing I’ve been really pleased with. When you lose a lot of games, you realize what’s not going right. Sometimes you have to learn through the struggles and the adversity.”

That aggressiveness is why the Flyers have now strung together back-to-back wins for just the second time in the past two months, and the biggest part of that success is a rookie goaltender that many within the organization believed needed the necessary AHL seasoning before he could be thrown into the frying pan of an NHL game.

Eleven games into his career, the 20-year-old Carter Hart is playing like he has the emotional fortitude of someone in their mid-to-late 40s. It just seems like there’s no way Hart could have the capacity to handle the adversity of falling behind 2-0 in back-to-back games to only stay composed and have his team rally back to beat the Wild and the Bruins.    

“You can tell he’s a mature kid,” Couturier said. “He prepares himself pretty well. He does a lot of little things away from the rink that help his game on the ice. He’s pretty calm back there. He’s above his age.”   

“I think it’s just how you approach the game. It’s everything,” Hart said. “It’s coming to the rink for practice, for games, whatever it is. Just coming in ready to work. I think if you work hard no matter how old you are, guys will respect you.”

With that, Hart gets to the heart of the matter. He embraces putting in the hard work of practice, much like Couturier has done from the time he started his NHL career at the age of 18. You can’t create a championship culture by cutting a few corners. So if the organization is planning ahead to next season, Hart and Couturier should be those cornerstone players. 

Outside of that, the Flyers have a lot more maturing to go through if they want to join the league’s elite.

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Flyers 4, Bruins 3: Sean Couturier records first career regular-season hat trick in win

Flyers 4, Bruins 3: Sean Couturier records first career regular-season hat trick in win

BOX SCORE

Would you believe the Flyers have their first winning streak in almost a full month?

Sean Couturier registered his first career regular-season hat trick Wednesday night as the Flyers knocked off the Bruins, 4-3, at the Wells Fargo Center. It's the Flyers' second straight win and second straight game in which a Flyer had a hat trick — James van Riemsdyk had one Monday.

Despite being badly outshot, the Flyers received outstanding goaltending again from Carter Hart, and surprisingly, the penalty kill is stepping up in a big way.

• There’s been a lot of talk linking the Bruins and Wayne Simmonds. The Bruins, having scratched David Backes for this game, have been looking to add some toughness and grit. If the two sides engage in trade talks, there’s two players that caught my eye in this game: left winger Peter Cehlarik and defenseman Brandon Carlo. Of course, the Bruins may not have interest in parting with either player, but Cehlarik certainly looks like a player who could be slotted in a top-six role, scoring two, while Carlo brings size and an ability to jump in offensively.

• I’ve discussed how the Flyers' PK was a personnel issue during Dave Hakstol’s time here when he tried to incorporate guys like Oskar Lindblom and Jori Lehtera into a heavy PK role. Lindblom has improved his shorthanded play, and it showed in this game. Operating at roughly 83 percent over their past 25 games, the PK had a defining moment in this game when it was forced to kill a five-minute major. It helped tremendously that the penalty extended from the end of the second period to the beginning of the third, but not only did the PK keep the Bruins to the outside, but Hart came up with three key saves.

• Not just that, but the Flyers were also whistled for too many men and Scott Laughton was called for hooking with eight minutes remaining in regulation. This may be the first game this season where the Flyers can say their penalty kill won them the game.

• The result of the extended power play came as a result of a boneheaded play from Lehtera after he dumped Ryan Donato head-first into the boards. It was Lehtera’s second penalty as he racked up 17 PIM and barely saw the ice in the third period. In case you’re asking, I have no idea why he’s still on this team. They can’t dump him in Lehigh Valley as the Phantoms have reached their veteran max, but after this game, the only way I’m playing Lehtera is in the event of an emergency.

• I was surprised at the pace of the opening 20 minutes — very loose and open as you would expect the Bruins to play tighter defensively. The Flyers had a couple of cross-ice plays that led to quality scoring chances, including one from Nolan Patrick, who was robbed by Jaroslav Halak’s right pad on the crease. Once again, that third line of Patrick, Simmonds and Laughton played well and gelled early.

• Flyers leading scorer Sean Couturier added two goals in a span of one minute and 15 seconds before adding a third for his first regular-season hat trick late in the third period. Quietly, Couturier now has 19 goals and is now on track for his second straight 30-goal season. If I had to vote right now for the Bobby Clarke Award as Flyers MVP, Couturier would be the guy.  

• Couturier should have been awarded a penalty shot when he was interfered with in the final seconds of the game. Had David Krejci now obstructed Couturier’s path, he would have scored four goals.

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