Nolan Patrick

Flyers' trade for Kevin Hayes could be major victory for Nolan Patrick's development

Flyers' trade for Kevin Hayes could be major victory for Nolan Patrick's development

Nolan Patrick entered the 2018-19 season as a freshly-turned 20-year-old facing hefty expectations.

Fair or not, that can be life as a No. 2 overall draft pick.

Patrick was coming off a healthy summer and his first NHL season in which he turned it on down the stretch to help the Flyers clinch a playoff berth. Many pinned him as the team's No. 2 center and predicted a breakout sophomore season of production well surpassing his 30-point rookie year.

It didn't happen. From a numbers standpoint, Patrick scored 31 points and played one fewer game than he did as a rookie. His spurts of brilliance were often overshadowed by prolonged slumps in which he blended in with the rest.

"I feel like there have been points where I've played the way I can and have had a big impact on games," Patrick said in April after the Flyers' season ended. "Then there are also stretches where I haven't been good enough and I haven't been playing the way I can. I think that's just strictly a confidence thing and staying confident throughout the year."

Which brings us to Kevin Hayes. One has to wonder if Patrick's confidence and role were on the mind of general manager Chuck Fletcher when he traded for Hayes, an impending unrestricted free agent, on Monday night (see story)

"I would suggest there are 27, 28 teams that would probably like to find a No. 1 or No. 2 centerman. It's a hard thing to find," Fletcher said in April. "Certainly if you can find a top centerman, I think any team should jump on it. We'll certainly look, but Nolan has the capability of being a No. 2 centerman."

If the Flyers are able to sign Hayes, the acquisition has the makings of a springboard for Patrick's growth. Less pressure, less responsibility can help Patrick. Now, he could have more time and room to reach those capabilities.

Patrick isn't the first 20-year-old to fight confidence. His psyche, though, is crucial to his physical game. A key to this offseason was adding down the middle — not just for depth, but also for Patrick.

Interestingly, another center in the picture doesn't pigeonhole Patrick. Instead, it provides the Flyers with greater options to drive his development forward. 

They'll have better opportunities to mix and match with Patrick. He can play on the third line next to Oskar Lindblom and another offensive-minded winger, possibly a youngster or an offseason acquisition. When his offense is clicking, he can climb back to the second unit with more talent and scoring accountability. He also saw some positive results this season playing alongside Claude Giroux when the Flyers tried spreading the wealth a bit.

Having Patrick not feel the weight of being a focal point from the outset should be a focus for the Flyers. It likely played into the thought process of the Hayes trade.

"It's really tough. Eighty-two games is a lot, especially in this league," Patrick said of the NHL grind. "It's demanding on your body and your mind. I think when you have teammates like we do, it's easy to stay positive and have fun when we come to the rink.

"I try to have big summers training-wise and come in ready. I felt like I was in great shape when I got here. I think it's just a mental thing, maybe overthinking it too much."

Hayes can help the Flyers. He's 27 and scored a career-high 25 goals last season and a career-high 55 points this season, despite being traded at the Feb. 25 deadline.

Better yet, what he could do for a young Patrick would make everyone forget about a 2019 fifth-round pick lost in the process.

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Why James van Riemsdyk could be Flyers' most important player in 2019-20 (and not for his goal-scoring)

Why James van Riemsdyk could be Flyers' most important player in 2019-20 (and not for his goal-scoring)

When James van Riemsdyk hit the free-agent market last summer, he had just scored a career-high 36 goals and was considered the second-biggest commodity to only John Tavares.

Signing with the Flyers presented a variety of selling points.

Five years, $35 million certainly whet the appetite.

Returning to the organization that drafted him second overall in 2007 was intriguing.

Being back near his hometown of Middletown, New Jersey, held special meaning.

But just as important as all those factors was this: He loved the Flyers' youth.

And still does, despite Year 1 of the reunion falling well short of expectations with a season marred by another slow start, inconsistency and dramatic change.

"That's the beauty of having young guys, we have guys that haven't hit their best hockey yet," van Riemsdyk said April 6 following the Flyers' season-finale loss. "We have a lot of high-end players, too. Everyone's got to be hungry going into the summer. It's not just a time to put your feet up, that's when you make your big strides as a player. You identify things you want to work on and you attack them."

There's excitement about what a healthy and comfortable van Riemsdyk can do for the Flyers throughout a full season in 2019-20 (see story).

However, he may be the Flyers' biggest difference-maker for a separate reason.

The very same youngsters that attracted van Riemsdyk to Philadelphia should attract to the 30-year-old. A proper word to describe van Riemsdyk is professional. He's enjoyed consistent success because of a complete and workmanlike approach that translates into results. 

In each of his last five full seasons, he's scored at least 27 goals. He's netted 30 or more twice. He scored 29 in 2016-17 and would have had over 30 this season if not for an injury that cost him 16 games. So he's awfully close to four 30-goal seasons by the age of 30 and he's played in 59 postseason games.

Sean Couturier is the only other Flyer with two 30-goal seasons and only Claude Giroux has appeared in more playoff games (69).

His young, impressionable teammates — Nolan Patrick (20 years old), Travis Konecny (22) and Oskar Lindblom (22), to name a few among the forwards — can learn from van Riemsdyk.

For the Flyers to have the bounce-back year they want next season, they'll need significant strides from their younger players — in other words, more consistency.

Carter Hart, who was lauded for his maturity entering the pros, took after van Riemsdyk to help with his NHL transition at 20 years old.

"JVR has been a real big help," Hart said in April. "He really pays attention to that side of the game and he's talked to me a little about his approach with the off-ice nutrition and sleep habits and all of his little things that he talks about. He's really helped me just open my eyes to his approach with the off-ice and nutrition and sleep habits, making sure that he's taking care of his body. He's always one of the first guys in the gym and he's always taking care of his body and doing the right thing. It's pretty cool for him to talk to me about that, and it has really opened my eyes."

Van Riemsdyk isn't the guy to get in your face and force-feed you tips on how to be better because he doesn't toot his own horn. But by watching him, by seeking him out, the Flyers can capitalize on more than just his goal production.

"It's something you can't fake, you can't just come in and be a guy who's rah-rah, do it my way, do it this way," van Riemsdyk said. "You've got to live it every day. I love what I do and I love trying to be the best I can be, try to be a good professional, just find an edge to keep improving and improving every single year that I can. You can't really come in Day 1 and beat your chest and say stuff. You remember being in some of the shoes of the young players not so long ago."

What did he do in those shoes?

"I remember just being a sponge in those situations where you're kind of watching and listening probably twice as much as you're saying anything," van Riemsdyk said. "Just kind of seeing the different things guys do to be successful and prepare to play at the best of their abilities every night.

"Just try to prepare the best I can. Be a good pro and set a good example in that respect. As you develop better relationships with guys — that just doesn't happen overnight — but as you develop those relationships with guys, you develop that trust where we can all learn different things from each other."

It could go a long way in the Flyers' 2019-20 aspirations. And it shouldn't require van Riemsdyk to beat his chest, either.

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5 surprising storylines for why Flyers' 2018-19 season fell well short

5 surprising storylines for why Flyers' 2018-19 season fell well short

The Flyers' 2018-19 season did not go as planned.

Even if you didn't predict a 105-point, 49-win season like USA TODAY Sports, did anyone foresee all the dramatic change and just 82 points, the franchise's fewest in a full season since 2006-07, when the team put up a dreadful 56?

Probably not.

"I think we've got everything to be successful," Ivan Provorov said Sunday. "We've got a great group of guys, great players that are hungry to get better.

"We're all disappointed in how it turned out, not making the playoffs and not playing the way we wanted as a team."

Let's look at five things that surprisingly didn't go the Flyers' way:

1. Power outage

The Flyers' power play ranked 15th in the NHL last season at 20.7 percent.

Add James van Riemsdyk to the picture, a guy with 40 man-advantage goals over the previous five seasons, and it seemed like the power play was going to be the team's biggest strength, maybe sneaking into the top 10 of the league.

Instead, the power play was one of the Flyers' downfalls.

It finished at 17.1 percent, tied for 22nd. When the Flyers were really struggling, the power play was 9 for 93 (9.7 percent) from Oct. 13 to Jan. 2, a 35-game stretch in which the team went 13-17-5.

The Flyers tried different looks, even turning to a five-forward unit in January. Over the final 32 games of the season, the Flyers' man advantage was fifth best in the NHL at 24.1 percent. The team can only hope that's a positive sign heading into 2019-20.

2. Can't find Ghost

Shayne Gostisbehere was coming off a career year in which he scored 65 points (13 goals, 52 assists), the fourth most among NHL defensemen, at 24 years old.

He looked primed for a big-time 2018-19.

It didn't happen.

Gostisbehere took a step back with 37 points and a minus-20 rating. Last season, he was a terror for the opposition on the power play, leading all NHL blueliners with 33 man-advantage points. This season, he had just 14 power-play points. 

"Definitely the toughest season I've been through personally in my four years," Gostisbehere said.

Did opponents adjust to his game?

You've got to do different things. Just like quarterbacks, you do the same thing, teams are going to pick up on it. I still have certain moves I do every game, they still work, but for me, it's a mental thing. When a guy's coming at me, I'm like, 'Oh, will he fall for my fake, probably not.' You've got to have the confidence to just do it and go with it. That's a huge part of my game — deception, fakes and my movement with the puck. For me, it's instilling that confidence in myself and going out there and doing it every night.

3. An identical Patrick

After coming on strong toward the end of his rookie season and finally having a full summer of training, Nolan Patrick was in line for a hefty jump as the 2017 No. 2 overall pick.

Patrick, though, was streaky and inconsistent, finishing 2018-19 with the same number of goals (13) and just one more assist (18). When he's going all out, he looks like one of the best forwards on the ice. He's only 20 years old and has been a player of gradual growth.

Next season, the Flyers will certainly need more from him.

"It's really tough, 82 games is a lot, especially in this league," Patrick said of the full-season grind. "It's demanding on your body and your mind.

"There is another gear I can get to."

4. Home not-so-sweet home

Playing at the Wells Fargo Center is almost becoming a pressure-cooker for the Flyers.

The team had a 19-18-4 record in Philly, giving the Flyers their fewest home wins over a full season since the dubious 2006-07 campaign.

The beauty of Flyers fans is that they thoroughly care. So when the team doesn't perform, they'll voice their frustration, which is good. But the Flyers need to get past that.

"This team hasn't won in 43 years and they want to see our team have success and to give effort every single time on the ice," Jakub Voracek said. "They want to win. I want to win. Pressure at home is higher at home than on the road. I think it's for every home team because they always want to see something extra, and you can't blame them."

5. That's a lot of goalies

The Flyers played eight goalies, an NHL record.

The situation heading into 2018-19 didn't look great with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth given the health issues for both netminders.

"I think both of those guys being healthy ready to go at the start of the year, it's probably a different season for this team and I probably wouldn't be standing here talking to you," Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said after the season finale.

Teams don't make the playoffs with that type of instability in net.

The fortunate thing for the Flyers is that it allowed Carter Hart to blossom.

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