Nolan Patrick has had a bumpy rookie season, as he tries to make the gargantuan jump from juniors to the NHL.
His summer workouts were slowed because of abdominal surgery, then a concussion forced him to miss nine games during the season.
But the 19-year-old center has shown some positive signs in the last few games. He put together one of his best performances of the season on Wednesday, as the Flyers outlasted Detroit, 4-3, to capture their seventh win in the last eight games.
"I'm getting some confidence, and my body's been cooperating," Patrick said after an optional practice Thursday in Voorhees. "Just having fun out there and trying to enjoy it."
Sean Couturier scored the game-winner early in the third period – it was his 16th goal, a career high – and Claude Giroux (three assists) and Wayne Simmonds (goal, assist) played key roles. So did Patrick, who helped set up Dale Weise's goal and won nine of 12 faceoffs.
Patrick was so effective that coach Dave Hakstol used him late in the third period of a one-goal game.
"Patty has been building the last few games," said Hakstol, whose team will play in Buffalo on Friday. "I thought throughout the game he was a solid, effective player. … It's a process for him, and you're seeing consistency from him the last three or four games."
Playing for Brandon in the Western Hockey League, Patrick had 148 points over his last 105 games, including 61 goals. He has just two goals and seven points in his first 25 games with the Flyers. He said he's been concentrating on his defense.
"It's a hard league for every young player. I don't care how mature you are, how good a player you are," Hakstol said. "It's a hard league to make an adjustment to, and I like the signs I'm seeing right now out of Patty's game."
General manager Ron Hextall also likes what Patrick has shown lately.
"He's moving better," Hextall said. "It's a big adjustment for a kid who has had the puck his whole life, and now, all of a sudden, we're asking him to play a different role. Everything is different. He's playing against bigger guys, faster guys, stronger guys. He's not playing against guys he's used to, and he doesn't have the puck all night."
Patrick has seemed too mechanical for most of the season — as though he's playing not to make a mistake and not using his creative playmaking talents. But his improvement has been clear.
"I see progress right now," Hextall said. "I'm happy with where he's at. We want him to be better, obviously, but he's playing a pretty complete game right now for a 19-year-old."
Weise, who is on a line with Patrick and Jordan Weal, said Patrick is "controlling play in the middle of the ice, and I think he is getting a little more comfortable out there. Starting to hang onto it a little more,"
For their line to have success, Weise said, "it's going to run through" Patrick.
Patrick was the No. 2 overall pick in June's draft. Speedy Nico Hischier went to New Jersey at No. 1, and he entered Thursday with five goals and 15 assists in 33 games. Hischier has averaged 16 minutes, 15 seconds of ice time per game, compared to Patrick's 12:02.
— Injured backup goalie Michal Neuvirth will make the trip to Buffalo and Columbus but probably isn't ready to play, Hextall said. Hakstol wouldn't say whether Alex Lyon will make his NHL debut in one of the back-to-back games but said he believed in the rookie. "His best practices have been over the last three or four days," Hakstol said. "He's a guy we have good confidence in."
— Ivan Provorov, hit on the left hand and wrist while blocking Tomas Tatar's shot on Wednesday, and Taylor Leier (upper-body injury) participated in practice.
— Couturier is on a 39-goal pace.
— Defenseman Brandon Manning, trying to work his way back from a hand injury, skated before practice. He has missed the last seven games
— Giroux has 11 points, including nine assists, in his last eight games
— Hextall praised the play of Phantoms left winger Oskar Lindblom, saying he's "on an upper trend" after a slow start.