Repeat after me: Nolan Patrick is not a bust. Nolan Patrick is not a bust. Nolan Patrick is not a bust.
There, don’t you feel better?
Granted, in his first two seasons, the Flyers’ 6-foot-2, 198-pound center has not performed like the guy who, for most of his draft year, was projected to be selected No. 1 overall in 2017 before slipping to No. 2, behind Nico Hischier.
Still, there’s no reason to panic, no reason to call Patrick a bust after he started his career with consecutive 13-goal seasons that produced 30 and 31 points, respectively.
He’s only 20, and while he didn’t make offensive strides this season — Patrick’s point total was tied for 96th among NHL centers — he did improve defensively and he did show glimpses of the player who had received glowing reviews when he tore up the junior-level competition.
Remember, it took Sean Couturier until his sixth season before he blossomed into an offensive force. Patrick has played just two seasons.
Remember, Florida center Aleksander Barkov, drafted No. 2 overall (like Patrick) in 2013, began his career by scoring eight and 16 goals in his first two seasons. Since then, he has had seasons of 28, 21, 27, and 35 goals.
Patrick needs to get hungrier for the puck, needs to shoot more, needs to play with more confidence. That will come with time.
In the meantime, the Flyers could do Patrick — and themselves — a service by dropping him from the No. 2 to the No. 3 center spot. That will give him more favorable matchups and, provided general manager Chuck Fletcher signs or acquires a center, will upgrade the offense.
Fletcher has said he will do whatever it takes to improve the Flyers, including pursuing restricted free agents. Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point, Carolina’s Sebastian Aho, Toronto’s Mitch Marner, and Vegas’ William Karlsson are among the gifted restricted free agents who either play center or can play the position. It would be stunning, however, if their respective teams didn’t match offer sheets.
More realistically, here are the centers who could be on Fletcher’s shopping list:
Matt Duchene, 28, unrestricted free agent: The speedy Duchene has seven seasons with 20-plus goals on his resume and he is coming off a career-best season in which he had a combined 31 goals and 70 points with Ottawa and Columbus. His defense won’t remind people of Couturier, but he would give the Flyers a strong one-two punch down the middle.
Kevin Hayes, 27, unrestricted free agent: Signing the 6-foot-5, 216-pound Hayes, regarded as a strong two-way player who also kills penalties, makes sense because he blossomed under new Flyers coach Alain Vigneault when they were together with the New York Rangers. He is 27, won’t be as expensive as Duchene, and is coming off a career-best 55-point season with the Rangers and Jets.
Brock Nelson, 27, unrestricted free agent: The Islanders are reportedly trying hard to re-sign the 6-3, 212-pound center, but if they don’t get it done before July 1, Fletcher figures to kick the tires on Nelson, who once starred for Dave Hakstol at North Dakota. Nelson, a Minnesota native, had 25 goals and a career-high 53 points for the surprising Islanders this season.
Nazem Kadri, 28, trade candidate: The Maple Leafs will likely trade a key player to free cap space to sign Marner. The 6-0, 192-pound Kadri, who hurt Toronto by getting suspended during the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, is a candidate to be moved. From the Flyers’ perspective, it might be the perfect time to roll the dice on a player they call “Naz.” Toronto’s management is down on him, and he is coming off a 16-goal year, the lowest output in any of his seven full seasons. He plays on the edge, had consecutive 32-goal seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18, and has a very reasonable cap hit ($4.5 million annually for the next three seasons).
The Flyers’ upper management wants the team to be bold in the off-season. Dealing for Kadri would fit that description.
William Nylander, 23, trade candidate: Like Kadri, Nylander could be dealt because of the Marner situation. After holding out and signing Dec. 1, Nylander had just seven goals in 54 games. That followed strong performances in each of his first two full seasons, when he had 61 points each year. Nylander, an outstanding puck handler, has five years left on a contract that has an annual $6.96 million cap hit. He’s young, fast, and intriguing.
In a deal for Kadri or Nylander, the Flyers have draft picks and defensemen who could interest the Maple Leafs.