Tuesday, May 23, 2017

2017 NHL Draft Preview: Nolan Patrick

In continuation with the theme of looking at top prospects for ¬the 2017, let’s take a look at somebody who has been on the radar of NHL teams, Hockey Canada, and various scouting services as young as 15 years old – Nolan Patrick.
To put it bluntly, Nolan Patrick is the most talented player available for the 2017 draft. Despite it being pretty close in the rankings, he's the clear cut top guy in my opinion in terms of pure talent. The big, 6’3”, 203 lb center has been playing in the WHL for 3 full seasons and has been an absolute terror to opposing defensemen in such time. When you combine the ability to excel in any situation (PP, PK, ES, etc.) & in any zone, with the IQ to process the game several plays in advance, the skill level to carry a franchise, and a game built off of strength and power, you begin to get an idea of what Patrick is capable of.
Let’s be frank, the NHL is a bit of a copy-cat league, and it’s hard not to notice the great success of big, powerful forwards like Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Johansen over the course of these playoffs. Patrick is of the same mold. Patrick is no generational talent, but certainly has 1C potential, and will step into the NHL to play next season. So, looking past the cliché buzzwords we find in prospect scouting reports, let’s get to the details about who Nolan Patrick is, and what he can bring to the team that drafts him.
Patrick is a guy that does everything at either a very good or great level…everything: from face-offs to defensive zone reads, to board battles, etc…very Toews-like – I know I’ve been throwing out a lot of player comparisons already in this post, and while I really don’t care for comparisons, I’m sharing these names to show what kind of company Patrick is projected to be near. There are no weaknesses to Patrick's game. Patrick is relentless in his game that he’s always doing something to support the play. He’s definitely not very flashy, but if you notice, every play he makes is the “smart” play. Now, there is a difference between making the “smart” play and making the “right” play – and Patrick is tenacious enough in his work ethic that if he ever makes a mistake or makes a play that was smart but ended up not being the right play, he will rectify it and make sure he doesn’t make the same mistake again. Yes, top hockey draft-eligible prospects have good work ethic and good hockey smarts, but in this particular case, Nolan Patrick was bred to be a hockey player. His bloodline is very apparent – his father, Steve, was a 1st round pick by the Buffalo Sabres; his uncles James Patrick and Rich Chernomaz were 1st and 2nd round picks by the New York Rangers and Colorado Avalanche, respectively. The rest of his family is full of professional athletes as well.
Patrick is a powerful skater and is excellent at gaining the offensive zone – I mean heck, who would want to try and stop such a big guy skating at them at high speeds? Skating is an area of improvement, most notably his ability to accelerate (despite having a quick first step). However, he is able to work past this by always moving his feet, which allows him to go wherever he needs to go anywhere on the ice. If anything, “powerful” is the best singular word to describe Patrick’s overall game.
Despite having a great shot, Patrick is more of a pass-first type center. Nobody in this draft class is a better cross-crease passer. His passes are crisp and accurate and are as hard as they are dynamic. Patrick’s wrist shot is (using the word again) powerful, with a fast release. He can score from anywhere in the offensive zone in any part of the net. He’s quite good at going short-side with his wrist shot from the circles though. Be especially aware of him right around the net. His long reach makes him lethal when knocking in rebounds. Patrick’s slap shot is just as dangerous as his wrist shot. In terms of snap shots and one-timers, Patrick really doesn’t need much room to get a shot off, and can sometimes get a hard shot on net even when the puck is passed to him at an odd angle. Combine all of this with his very high IQ, excellent vision, and very good puck handling ability, and you get a player that is extremely difficult to contain. This is a kid who scored 30 goals in his first full season in the WHL as a 16-year-old.
Defensively, Patrick has all the tools and puts them to good use. He can read plays and anticipate them. He’s strong enough to rub opponents off the puck along the boards and win battles in the dirty areas. He’s able to position himself to allow for good puck pressure and he also uses an active stick to block passing lanes and will block shots. While not explosively fast in transition out of the defensive zone, Patrick gets where he needs to, can exit the defensive zone cleanly, and can dish the puck up the ice to forwards moving up the ice. While he’s not necessarily a “speedster” he can still blow by defensemen, and – adding on to the previously mentioned note about being difficult to defend – defensemen need to respect his ability to shoot the puck or make a really good pass, so they’ll need to make a decision on how they want to play him as he’s entering the zone. If they stand still and freeze up, they’ll get run over. It’s because of this that I’m really looking forward to seeing him play in a 3-on-3 overtime period.
This is just pure spitballing, but watching Taylor Hall and Nolan Patrick play, separately, both guys seem like their type of play would complement the other. The reason I say this is because we saw so many instances during the past season where Hall would get the distribute the puck to a linemate who wasn’t ready for it. This was mostly because of how quickly it happened. Patrick can give and take the puck at a very fast level and is always ready to both receive and pass the puck back.
Continuing on with the Devils element to this, I think it’s interesting to look at what we’re trying to build. If the Devils draft Patrick, you’ll have a 1-2 punch of Nolan Patrick and Michael McLeod (I think Zacha would shift to the wing in this case, but that’s for another time) – two awfully fast, very skilled, very strong, two-way forwards (Zacha could also be listed in this too). That’s nothing to scoff at, and we’re going to be in great shape moving forward. Patrick fits the mold of your prototypical, big, strong, playmaking #1C. Just because our 2 most recent first round picks have been centers, we’re still taking a center in this case. Shero’s Penguins drafted Jordan Staal 2nd overall in the 2006 draft, despite having just drafted Crosby and Malkin. Director of Amateur Scouting, Paul Castron selected Ryan Johansen in the 2010 draft with the Blue Jackets. These are cherry-picked examples, but the crux of the issue is this: we need a 1C. Patrick is a very safe pick to get there, and if he pans out, we’ll have our #1C for the next decade-plus.
With that being said, it’s not possible to write about Nolan Patrick without talking about his injury history. Say what you will about broken bones at 13/14 years old, but sports hernias are scary, and knee/leg injuries are scary, and groin injuries are scary especially for young, growing prospects. In my opinion, there is legitimate concern about his injury history. Concerns about his game include not being as physical as he could be, and also not having a particular trait that’s “elite”. In addition to physicality, this could manifest itself into him being more aggressive on the forecheck, but as mentioned earlier, the biggest question mark that will affect where he gets drafted – 1st or 2nd Overall – will be just how much a team wants to take a risk on his injury history. Thankfully he doesn’t have a history of concussions.
Thanks for reading!

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