VOORHEES, N.J. – It’s taken nearly half a season but Flyers rookie center Nolan Patrick is finally looking comfortable and confident with his game.
The road to get there, however, hasn’t been easy.
First there was the little matter of offseason abdominal surgery (his second in two years involving the same problem).
Then came a concussion after just nine games.
To top it off, the pressure from expectations for being a No. 2 overall draft pick last June probably weighed heavily on him, too.
But in the last handful of games, Patrick looks more relaxed. He won a big faceoff leading to the Flyers’ first goal in a 4-3 win over Detroit on Wednesday night and finished the game 9-3 on draws.
“I really like his last four games,’’ general manager Ron Hextall said after Thursday’s optional practice at the Skate Zone. “Particularly three of them. He’s moving better.
“It’s a big adjustment for a kid who’s had the puck his whole life. All of a sudden now we’re asking him to play a different role. Everything is different. You’re playing against bigger guys, faster guys, stronger guys. He’s not playing the role he’s used to. I see progress. I’m happy with where he’s at.’’
Patrick seems to have developed some chemistry, too, with wingmen Dale Weise and Jordan Weal.
“We want him (Patrick) to be better, obviously,’’ Hextall said. “But he’s playing a pretty complete game right now for a 19-year-old. He’s made strides. He’s on the ice for important minutes and that’s valuable to him.
“He’s on the ice because he’s earned it.’’
Patrick acknowledges it’s been a big adjustment.
“I’m getting more comfortable, I’m getting some confidence,’’ he said. “I feel better lately, my body’s been cooperating. Having some fun out there, trying to enjoy it.’’
Is he past the effects of the surgery?
“When you’re out on the ice playing, you’re not really thinking about that too much,’’ he said. “I’ve been feeling good.
“Last year I really couldn’t skate at all. It’s nice to go around everyday and not have pain. Just feel like myself again. I don’t know how long it takes until you’re a hundred percent after the surgery but I’m feeling good. I just want to put that in the past.’’
Patrick is trying to get over that temptation to look over his shoulder all the time and worry about his defensive responsibilities.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t (worry),’’ he said. “It’s in the back of your head a little bit. I just try to play a good two-way game. Play fast and contribute as much as I can. Try not to worry about things like that.’’
Coach Dave Hakstol also sees improvement in recent games.
“I just think it’s a process for him, in terms of a young player becoming more and more consistent at this level,’’ he said. “I think that’s what you’re seeing out of Nolan the last three or four games is the consistency.
“Last night, for he and his linemates, it was a really good night. In the third period, played a real complete period.’’
Goaltending status: Hextall said it’s unlikely the injured Michal Neuvirth, who has been practicing for several days, will get playing time in Friday night’s game at Buffalo or Saturday night’s in Columbus. Hextall wouldn’t say if backup Alex Lyon might make his first NHL start.
Hakstol says he has confidence in Lyon.
“Yeah, I think the time that he’s been here, it’s been really valuable for him,’’ Hakstol said. “You could see it the first couple days. He’s making the adjustment. His best practices have been over the last three or four days. He’s a guy we have good confidence in.’’
Christmas blues: The Flyers haven’t exactly been the 1987 Edmonton Oilers on their recent post-Christmas excursions. In fact, over the past three seasons, they’re a rather horrible 0-9-2 away from the cozy confines of the Wells Fargo Center.
What’s the problem?
“It’s a much needed break (at Christmas),’’ Hakstol said. “Even though it’s a short break, to have that mental break for 48 hours, it’s really important. Take advantage of that but there comes a time when you have to make the switch back to business mode. The time for that is not Dec. 27, it’s probably a little earlier than that. That’s one thing we will touch on.’’
Added Hextall: “We’ve changed some things. Diet on the road is a little bit different. We’ve tried to educate them on things like that. The road is harder to play than home. I think there are distractions, the holidays. Hopefully our guys can stay focused, stay on task here.’’