When Nolan Patrick underwent sports hernia surgery in the summer of 2016, it was expected that he would be perfectly healthy and ready to go for his final season leading up to the 2017 NHL Draft. Instead, Patrick suffered through a season hampered by a mysterious injury, later revealed to be a second sports hernia that originally went undiagnosed.
But just how injured was Nolan Patrick last year? After all, he did play in 33 regular season games and finished with 46 total points - hardly a pedestrian effort - and was still impressive enough to justify the Flyers using the second overall pick in the draft on him in June.
As it turns out, this was no minor issue for the 18-year old prospect.
“I was probably 60 percent when I first started playing [last season],” Patrick admitted today at Flyers development camp. “Then I maybe got up to 70, 75 tops. I never had any wind during games. I’d lose my energy really quick, trying to skate with that injury.”
Despite being obviously hampered, Patrick’s point per game ratio of 1.39 in 2016-17 basically matched his 1.41 ratio in his breakout 2015-16 season, during which he led the Brandon Wheat Kings to the Memorial Cup and was named MVP of the WHL playoffs. In addition, Brandon had lost key contributors Ivan Provorov, John Quenneville and Jayce Hawryluk to the professional ranks for the 2016-17 season, resulting in a weaker overall squad.
The expectation was that Patrick’s raw production would jump in his draft year, but considering the circumstances and the impact of his injury, simply holding steady seems like quite an accomplishment in retrospect. In fact, if you accept that Patrick was about 70% of his true self last season and want to have some fun with math, that would give him an injury-adjusted 1.95 point-per-game ratio at full strength, right in line with the stellar draft years of Mitch Marner (2.00 PPG) and Dylan Strome (1.98).
Nevertheless, Patrick still was able to produce at an very high level, even with the notable handicap.
“It [was] mostly sharp pain in skating,” Patrick explained. “That’s the main thing that bothered me, my skating couldn’t really get to where it needed to be. You get tired a lot quicker. It’s tough to explain it, but it’s kind of a sharp, shooting pain in the lower stomach.”
When asked why he didn’t simply shut things down early in the year due to the injury, Patrick was frank.
“I just didn’t want to miss the whole season of my draft year, so I just tried to play as much as can.”
Due to his surgery, the Flyers’ top forward prospect will not be participating in the on-ice events at Development camp, but Patrick is not concerned about the recovery process and expects to be back on the ice sometime next week.
“It’s not like it’s a four-week recovery and then it still bugs you for a while,” he pointed out. “It’s pretty much four weeks and then you’re ready to go. I’m feeling really good now and I’m really excited to get back on the ice.”
Patrick was reassured as well by the sterling reputation of Dr. William Meyers, who performed the surgery.
“I talked to a few other doctors in Winnipeg and they said Meyers is the top guy in that area so I just waited to see him.
[Flyers’ trainer] Jimmy McCrossin is the main guy that I’ve been working with [on rehab], and he said he’s not ever seen a guy have [a sports hernia] again after Dr. Meyers has done [the surgery], so that’s positive.”
In the meantime, Patrick will still be participating in the off-ice portion of camp, and the soon-to-be-19-year-old is focused on digesting as much information as possible from the Flyers’ coaches.
“I’ve been watching some film that they were showing us this morning, and drills to do. I was watching the drills today. It’s kinda something I can take back and do some of it at home with my skills coach, and obviously do some of it when I’m skating here. There’s a lot to learn and I’m just going to try and learn as much as I can here. Obviously I’d like to take part in the on-ice stuff but it is what it is.”
The injury issues may have been a driving force in dropping Patrick from first overall to No. 2 in last month’s draft, but the young center did note that he learned one key lesson from his trying season.
“That I can play decent hurt, I guess.”
The Flyers are obviously hoping that he’ll be even better once fully healthy, a day that appears to be fast approaching.