Nolan Patrick

End to End: What is Flyers' biggest training camp storyline?

End to End: What is Flyers' biggest training camp storyline?

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

The topic: What is the biggest training camp storyline?

Looking back at the 2017-18 preseason, much of the anticipation surrounded the three-way prospect battle among the young, talented defensemen of Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim.

I don’t see a similar roster battle brewing as we inch closer to September. I expect some of the Phantoms forwards to make a strong push to make the team, but their role (if they make the team) will likely be as a fourth-line player.

So the anticipation surrounds the goaltenders, and the most commonly asked question I’ve been receiving is when will Carter Hart will be ready? The answer to which all depends on Hart himself and the preseason will serve as an early-season litmus test.

Let’s keep in mind it’s also a very important season in the careers of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, both in contract years and both looking to overcome injury-plagued seasons that rendered them not close to ready when the playoffs started. Elliott is the presumed No. 1, but when healthy and confident, Neuvirth is capable of making a serious push for playing time. 

If either Elliott or Neuvirth goes down with another injury, who steps in and fills that void and where is Anthony Stolarz in his progression? All of which makes for another intriguing (and yet redundant) storyline in the world of Flyers goaltending.

This is pretty simple.

Who is the third-line center?

The Flyers do not have a clear-cut favorite for their third-line center vacancy. Scott Laughton may have the inside track, but we can't rule out the team's prospects or even Claude Giroux returning to the middle. It will be the most intriguing camp battle this year.

We can move forward believing that moving Giroux back to center is the Flyers' last resort. It's an option, sure, but not the plan. My bet is that Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is betting on either Laughton or a prospect to prove they can take the reins.

But if Laughton doesn't show he can handle a more offensively-dependent role and none of the kids are ready, then moving Giroux back to center could be in the cards.

Much like the defensive position battle last September, the third-line center will have a few prospects attempting to show Hextall they're ready for The Show.

I'm going out on a limb and saying Morgan Frost will do just that — force his way onto the NHL roster.

How about Dave Hakstol's personnel decisions within the power play and top six?

I'm most intrigued to see how those shake out during camp and preseason action because the outcomes won't come easily.

These are good problems, though. With the addition of James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers' depth was bolstered, giving Hakstol and company much more to work with in 2018-19.

Does van Riemsdyk, who has developed a net-front prowess, jump right onto the first power-play unit? Or does Wayne Simmonds, coming off a wide range of injuries and eyeing a new contract, take back that role? Or is Nolan Patrick the sleeper to stick there after showing his skills in deep during the stretch run last season?

It will be fascinating to see how Hakstol experiments early, not only with the man advantage but also piecing together his top six, which is much more loaded.

People love to analyze the coach's decisions. It'll only pick up come September.

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End to End: Which Flyer needs to take the next step in 2018-19?

End to End: Which Flyer needs to take the next step in 2018-19?

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

The topic: Which Flyer needs to take the next step in 2018-19?

There’s a case to be made for several players who fall under this category. Travis Konecny has 30-goal potential. Defenseman Travis Sanheim endured an up-and-down rookie season and needs to develop consistency and Oskar Lindblom proved his game can compete at the NHL level.

But there’s one player that’s almost expected to elevate his game next season and that would be second-year center Nolan Patrick, who’s now two months shy of his 20th birthday. Patrick was primed to be my choice even before NHL Network’s Mike Johnson listed the Flyers' center as his No. 1 breakout player for the 2018-19 season (see story).

Certainly, Patrick’s game may be still evolving, but from February to the end of the season, he was one of the Flyers' top players and clearly showed he had the skills to slide into that No. 2 center role, scoring 19 points over the final 32 games of the regular season. Against the Penguins, Patrick didn’t appear overwhelmed by the intensity of playoff hockey.

This is the first time since the summer of 2015 that Patrick will have a full offseason to recover, train and prepare for the upcoming season (see story). Patrick should enter the season with a ton of confidence and it wouldn’t surprise me if he explodes out of the gates in October. Realistically, expect him to score between 20-25 goals and 55-60 points next season and possibly more, depending on how much time he spends on the top power-play unit.

Scott Laughton found his footing as an NHL player last season as a fourth-line center and left winger, but it appears the Flyers are banking on him to do even more in 2018-19.

Laughton figures to be the early favorite for the Flyers' vacancy at third-line center. While a prospect such as Morgan Forst or Mikhail Vorobyev could grab it in training camp (see story), Laughton has the inside track. With that comes more offensive responsibility.

The 2012 first-round pick has yet to discover a scoring touch in the NHL but realized his path to The Show was responsible two-way play. We know he's a capable fourth-liner.

But can he elevate his game offensively? He'll have to in 2018-19 if he wants a bigger slice of the pie. The prospects are banging on the door and there are only so many spots.

What is in Laughton's corner, though, is versatility. He proved last season he can be effective at either center or wing, which should give him a spot on the team regardless.

The question will be, though, can he anchor the third line with Lindblom and, say, Wayne Simmonds? We'll find out in training camp and preseason, but he's the Flyer who has to take another step forward this season.

General manager Ron Hextall's work this offseason was a vote of confidence for Sanheim.

The Flyers let Brandon Manning walk and signed only Christian Folin, who is viewed as a seventh defenseman.

It was a clear sign Hextall is putting his faith in the 22-year-old Sanheim to make bigger strides. The 2014 first-round pick played 49 games last season, his first in the NHL. He also saw a stint down in the AHL, where he proved he was above the competition.

If Sanheim can start to bring his offensive ability to the table at the NHL level, while using his mobility and size in his own end, the Flyers will take another step. The lefty shot should have a greater leash to learn and play through his mistakes. He should also see more responsibility. How large of a jump Sanheim can make will be one of the more exciting storylines to watch in 2018-19.

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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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