How Nolan Patrick’s progress impacts Flyers in short and long term

Things are looking up for the Flyers’ young center.

Philadelphia Flyers forward Nolan Patrick, who was diagnosed with a migraine order in September, has been back on the ice a lot recently as he tries to work his way back.

Patrick had been skating on his own with skills coach Angelo Ricci up until a few weeks ago when he took the ice for a skills practice with his teammates. He wasn’t yet (and hasn’t been) cleared for contact, but being cleared to skate and practice with the team is a positive step for Patrick.

On Monday, Patrick once again practiced with the team and he is expected to continue to do so this week. He also spoke to the media after practice, which has been few and far between this season.

Patrick understands the importance of the upcoming trade deadline on Monday, Feb. 24.

“Obviously going into trade deadline, you want to know what your lineup’s gonna be for the rest of the year,” Patrick said. “It’s not like I’m just trying to get back because of that but obviously if you’re gonna have a window of where I could be back, that would be helpful. It’s tough to figure that out.”

Currently, the Flyers have 12 healthy and effective forwards with Morgan Frost waiting in the wings with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL. If Patrick is in the Flyers’ plans, he’ll join the Phantoms first on a conditioning stint.

“Once he gets sent to Lehigh Valley – that means that he’s getting close,” Alain Vigneault said. “Lehigh Valley means that he’s going down there for conditioning, to get some games in.”

There is no timetable for Patrick to be sent on his conditioning stint, but it’ll be important to see how he reacts to games and game situations in the AHL before assessing the potential of him playing for the Flyers this season. The good thing about the typical AHL schedule is that they play back-to-back games on weekends and usually have a Wednesday game in the middle. That would allow Patrick to be tested in either back-to-back games, two games in three nights, or two games in four nights.

Patrick joining the team for practices is undoubtedly a positive step. But how much does it impact the Flyers right now?

Well, in the short term, not all that much. While Patrick is skating and practicing, he’ll still need to ramp up the intensity in practices and then games before possibly joining the Flyers.

There are 23 regular-season games remaining, including tonight’s matchup against the Blue Jackets. Even if Patrick practices all this week, he’d likely still need at least a week with the Phantoms, which would put him on track to return in early March – and that’s the best-case scenario. If Patrick is ready in a month from Monday, he’ll be available for 10 regular-season games before the playoffs.

The timing of Patrick’s progress coincidentally lines up well with the trade deadline. Patrick doesn’t have a deadline for himself, but attempting to increase his activity will give the Flyers more of a sense if he can come back this season. Either way, it could impact their deadline plans.

NHL Trade Deadline: How Morgan Frost may affect Flyers’ plans

Patrick returning is not the same as trading for a middle-six forward, but he still has a chance to help the team this season. If they are confident that he will return in mid-to-late March, it could slightly change things. Perhaps they set their sights on a bottom-six guy instead of someone higher on the board. Just having Patrick healthy would open up Chuck Fletcher’s options

Having Patrick healthy would also give Vigneault more options and plenty to think about come crunch time.

The Flyers are rolling with four strong lines on most nights, but it’s always good to have an extra forward or two that can slide in if called upon. Patrick could take over as the fourth-line center (at worst) and fill in if one of the young guys hits a rough patch.

If Patrick isn’t as close to returning as they may have thought, Fletcher could turn up the heat on searching for a deadline addition. Maybe he adds in that extra draft pick or prospect to get the deal done.

Regardless of Patrick’s status, you can trust that Fletcher will be on the phones looking to improve the Flyers in any way he can. If the phone rings and it’s a good trade for the Flyers, Patrick will be the last thing on Fletcher’s mind while sealing the deal.

Patrick’s progression is more important for the Flyers’ long-term plans.

Let’s start with an admittedly premature start to the “long term:” the playoffs.

If Patrick can get into even a few NHL games toward the end of the season and be an option in the playoffs, that would help immensely. Patrick playing around 10 minutes per game as a bottom-six forward – provided everything goes well with the conditioning stint – will help the Flyers. He already has some playoff experience with two points in six games against the Penguins, and just being in that environment will do wonders in the big picture.

That’s the most important thing: the big picture.

Patrick has already lost most of his third professional season and even if he does play at the end of the year, it’ll be chalked up as a lost season. The status and health of Patrick is the most important thing. If he can help this season, great. If not, let’s make sure everything is done so that he’s on the best path to help in the 2020-2021 season and beyond.

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft still has a very bright future ahead of him. It’s still way too early to start penciling in Patrick as a middle-six center into this year’s lineup, but his progress is important for right now and the future.