Flyers

Nolan Patrick doesn't look out of place in Flyers' preseason OT loss to Islanders

Nolan Patrick doesn't look out of place in Flyers' preseason OT loss to Islanders

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. — It certainly didn't have the feel of the first preseason game of the season on a Sunday afternoon when many sports fans are glued to a TV watching the NFL.

But a sellout crowd of 13,917 poured into the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to watch the first hockey game in the former home of the Islanders for the first time since April 2015, and the Isles treated this exhibition as if it had some sentimental emotions.

Fans lined the parking lot of the newly-renovated arena tailgating a good two to three hours leading up to faceoff.     

"Didn't think energy was an issue," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "Pretty good pace to this game. I think probably the atmosphere had something to do with that.

"It was a great atmosphere. It was competitive all the way through. It's tough to lose in overtime. Performance wise and effort wise were good."

Islanders captain John Tavares ended the game just 34 seconds into overtime to give New York a 3-2 win over the Flyers with his second goal (see observations). Tavares beat Flyers goalie Leland Irving, who signed an AHL contract with the team last month.

Hakstol anticipated that tired legs would be an issue after two hard days to open training camp that included a lot of skating and some intense board battles during drills.

"They did what we asked," Hakstol said. "Go out and play to your strengths, play within themselves and do the things that they do best. Playing with poise and confidence and making plays."

Unlike Hakstol, who utilized a prospect-heavy group, Islanders head coach Doug Weight elected to use a more veteran-heavy presence in his lineup that included Tavares, newcomer Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Nick Leddy and former Flyer Dennis Seidenberg.

Irving took over for Alex Lyon in the third and faced a pair of point-blank opportunities in the opening minute from Tavares, who then won it in OT.

"Yeah, it's tough," Irving said with a laugh. "Tough going into the third. Sometimes those situations happen too, so you just have to be ready and prepare yourself for that situation.

"He obviously has some great finish. I knew who had the puck so it was just trying to be patient, follow him across, but he made a good shot right above the pad and below the blocker. When it goes post and in, you just tip your cap to him.

"You did what you had to do."

Hakstol couldn't have drawn up a better game situation to test the youth of his team after the Islanders erased a 2-0 deficit at the 14:37 mark of the third period.

"You could feel it in the legs today that you had two days of hard practices," defenseman Robert Hagg said. "At the same time you need to find a way to get around it, play a solid game and that's what I tried to focus on."

The natural Patrick
Playing in his first NHL game, second overall pick Nolan Patrick definitely didn't look out of place. There is a relative ease to his game, where he knows precisely where to be on the ice and exudes a calmness and confidence that rarely accompanies a rookie his age.

Patrick, who turns 19 on Tuesday, was teamed up on a line with Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny. That trio had not worked at all together prior to Sunday's preseason game.

"Yeah, he's a good player," Patrick said of Lindblom. "He protects the puck well. He's got a good shot. I think I'll be more of a pass-first guy, so I can find him as much as I can. Obviously, they had a pretty good lineup over there. I thought I played OK.

"I know I can still be better. Obviously, a little bit of nerves going into that first one."

Prospect watch
It's just the first preseason game, but Sam Morin and Hagg may have gained some separation from the other defensive prospects by turning in steady performances. Coming off a rookie game where he played in big chunks of minutes, Travis Sanheim had a bad turnover trying to bank a pass off the boards behind the Flyers' net that led to an uncontested shot on Lyon, and Mathew Barzal blew past Sanheim in the right circle before scoring the game-tying goal.

Phillipe Myers had some minor miscues, but the one that led to Tavares' overtime-winner certainly stood out. Part of constructing the roster for Sunday's game was to see how the four main defensive prospects would play together and handle the pressure and tempo of an NHL game.

"We certainly wanted to have those young guys in this game," Hakstol said. "It probably won't be the last game that we see them in. We tried to get them all within their roles, and I thought, for the most part, there was a lot of positive performances there.

"Obviously, there's a lot of learning experiences there as well, but there were some good positives."

Who can wing it?
General manager Ron Hextall is a firm believer that playmaking centers with good hockey IQ can make the transition from center to wing. Two players were called upon to make that transition Sunday.

Jori Lehtera manned the left side with Mikhail Vorobyev in the middle, and rookie Mike Vecchione lined up at right wing for the first time in roughly five years after playing center in his four seasons at Union College, where he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award as college hockey's top performers last season.

Vecchione didn’t back down from the challenge, showing a real toughness in battling for the puck along the boards.

“It’s a bit of an adjustment. I’d been working at it all week,” Vecchione said. “I played in high school and through junior and then I switched to center in college, where they needed me to play center. I have a fairly good background at right wing. It’s a little bit of a learning experience too. I’m just trying to adjust as best I can.”

Lehtera has played wing in international competition, but this will be the first time he’s played the position significantly on the smaller NHL ice where there’s more of a premium on winning individual board battles. Lehtera passed the first test with a shorthanded goal to go along with an assist.

“I played there in Olympics, World Cup and World Championships, so it’s not weird,” Lehtera said. ”I don’t think it matters if you have a good centerman it doesn’t matter if you’re a winger. It was a good first start.”

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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End to End: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

End to End: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

Boruk
There are three ways to look at this …

1. The Flyers re-sign Wayne Simmonds, who's eligible for an extension that would take effect in 2019-20.

2. Ron Hextall inks one of his restricted free agents to a team-friendly, lengthy multi-year deal.

3. The Flyers go big in free agency next summer. 

Let’s start with the latter. There are some interesting names that are headlining next summer’s potential UFA class: Tyler Seguin, Tyler Myers, Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin. 

Who knows which of these players will be re-signed or traded, but I don’t see the Flyers paying big dollars to add another forward now that you include James van Riemsdyk. According to Spotrac.com, the Flyers have $46.5 million (fourth highest in the NHL) committed to forwards, with Travis Konecny due for a pay raise next summer, as well.

With that knowledge, I’m not sure it makes sense for the Flyers to extend Simmonds another four to five years with an AAV of $6-7 million. Hextall has a good barometer of what Simmonds is worth on the open market, which is why term would be the sticking point in negotiations. If he’s willing to look at a three-year deal, it could get done soon, but if I’m Simmonds' agent, I’m trying to maximize the length of any new contract, which very well could be the last one his client signs.

I think the next big contract will be signed by defenseman Ivan Provorov, who’s entering the final year of his entry-level deal. It’s not out of the financial realm to think Provorov could sign a Drew Doughty-type bridge deal similar to the eight-year, $56 million pact the Kings' defenseman signed in 2011 at the age of 21. Doughty was coming off a monstrous 16-goal, 59-point season. Last season, Provorov ripped off 17 goals and 41 points and appears poised to build on that for this upcoming season.

Prepare yourself. Provorov will receive the next big pay day in Philadelphia.

Dougherty
Outside of teaching the Sixers and Phillies how to close a deal, Hextall's only item left on his offseason to-do list is to re-sign restricted free agent Robert Hagg.

During his end-of-season-news conference in April, Hextall said "initially, my thought right now is that we would be open to either long term or short term" with Hagg.

Whether Hagg qualifies as a "big signing" isn't really up for debate. It's not. Hagg is a quality third pair defenseman in the NHL and he proved as much in his rookie season.

But re-signing Hagg is the only move left I envision Hextall making this summer, or at the very least, the next move. A Provorov or Simmonds extension remains possible too.

As Hextall mentioned, the Flyers are open to either a short or long-term deal with Hagg. Both have their upside. That is also likely the holdup right now.

While Hagg wouldn't qualify as a "big" signing, he is next on the checklist. Once his contract is out of the way, then I could see the Flyers knocking out Provorov or Simmonds.

Hall
Hextall tends to get ahead and take care of his own.

When you look at the track record, he's not one to let contract decisions linger, especially when it comes to his core pieces — which makes for good business.

Just like in any profession, stability and happiness are important.

The Flyers' general manager extended Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier the summer prior to their contract years. 

He signed Shayne Gostisbehere, a restricted free agent last summer, in early June before the expansion draft and free agency opened. 

He even signed Michael Raffl in February 2016 before the role forward was set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

With all that said, my gut tells me Hextall's next big move is extending Simmonds at some point before the start of the season. Simmonds, coming off an injury-ravaged year in which he still managed to score 24 goals, can hit unrestricted free agency following the 2018-19 season. He wants to be back and Hextall values him greatly.

And the GM made it clear that when the Flyers signed van Riemsdyk to a five-year deal, it meant nothing to their situation with Simmonds.

"We like Wayne Simmonds," Hextall said July 1. "This doesn't change anything for Wayne. This is a left winger; this is a different player than Simmer. We're excited to have James, and certainly, we would like to have Simmer for a long time, too."

I expect that to be the next major check on the agenda.

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