VOORHEES – It’s probably the only health issue a hockey player can’t take shortcuts with on the road to recovery.
Matters that involve the mind are simply too serious, too precious to take chances, so Nolan Patrick is doing his best to remain patient. He’s slowly getting back from a condition which involves chronic migraine headaches.
Patrick has been practicing with the Flyers but hasn’t been cleared for contact.
He’s pretty sure there’s a finish line to this whole process, which has kept him on the sidelines for the entire season to date, but it’s just a question of when.
“Yeah, I can tell what the progress is,’’ he said after Wednesday’s practice at the Skate Zone. “It’s slow but obviously I notice it.’’
Clearly it’s been a test of his will. Doctors can’t predict when he will be completely healthy again.
“It’s really frustrating,’’ he said. “You don’t know any timeline. It’s getting better but it’s pretty frustrating.’’
Patrick, the Flyers’ No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, has put together back-to-back 13-goal seasons his first two years in the NHL and was looking for bigger things this year.
Even though he was experiencing headaches, he managed to stay in fairly decent shape during the offseason.
“I worked out for a good chunk of the summer,’’ he said. “I wasn’t doing nothing all summer. I had a base. I wasn’t where I wanted to be but I wasn’t like I had a complete offseason of nothing.’’
Patrick says he was hopeful of starting training camp right up until the end of August. Then he was advised against jumping right in.
“I probably didn’t rule it out until two weeks before I guess,’’ Patrick said. “But I’m no doctor so I don’t know how quick it will turn the corner or how it works.’’
He is waiver-exempt, so he could go to the Phantoms for a conditioning stint which could be one game or five.
Is that a likelihood?
“I have no idea,’’ he said. “That’s not my decision to make. If that does happen, it obviously would help – pop into a game. It depends on when I’m back. What the lineup looks like, if we have guys hurt. I don’t know. It’s not my decision.’’
Coach Alain Vigneault hopes Patrick makes a full recovery and can contribute once again.
Vigneault knows it will take more than a few practices to get ready but the timeline to get in game-shape should be fairly short.
“A couple times a week I’ll get feedback from our medical crew on where he is,’’ Vigneault said. “I do like when I see him on the ice. Today he looked real good, smooth. He killed penalties in a couple of instances.
“So he’s week to week. I know he wants to get back, so we’ll see.’’
Adding to the optimism: Patrick accompanied the team on its recent trip to western Canada and is traveling with the Flyers for Thursday night’s game at Chicago.
Patrick has been attending team meetings to stay up to speed for when he does return.
“Systems-wise, I think he’ll be fine,’’ Vigneault said.
>Elliott making second straight start
After Monday night’s fine effort in a 6-2 win over Vegas, Brian Elliott will return to start in goal for the Flyers against the Blackhawks.
Elliott returned to the Flyers this year in more of a backup role to Carter Hart but Hart is coming off a pair of losses and Elliott is a capable backup.
“I’ve always known he’s a competitive individual from playing against him in the past,’’ Vigneault said. “You always knew he was not going to give up on any shots.
“This year everyone felt good about him health-wise. So (GM) Chuck (Fletcher) made the move to bring him back. We knew we had a guy who was willing to fight for ice time and a good team person.’’
Elliott has had some health issues the past two seasons but is working hard to stay healthy for this campaign.
“Last year was a little bit of a battle,” he said. “It doesn’t change. There’s different battles every time – mental and physical – and you just have to stay on top of it and prepare as best you can. You learn to do that every which way, and I’m feeling good.”
>Fourth line important
Vigneault is still experimenting with line combinations but one unit he would like to keep together is the newly formed trio of Mikhail Vorobyev at center with Michael Raffl and Chris Stewart on the flanks.
The line was a plus-8 in the Vegas game.
“It (the fourth line’s role) is huge,’’ Vigneault said. “Sometimes in a sequence in a game, you will end up with seven or eight minutes of no timeouts. When the game is flowing like that, you have to have four lines.
“Otherwise, if you don’t, you’re playing three lines and fatigue will set in. That’s when you start making mistakes. On those occasions when there are no timeouts, you have to have four lines. I felt comfortable last game. As the game went on, I felt that line was useful for us.’’
Both Raffl and Stewart said trust in their line is important.
“It’s about buying into your role,’’ Stewart said. “For us, less is more. It’s grinding down the opposition and getting lots of zone time. The more we’re together, the more chemistry we create.’’
Added Raffl: “It’s a four-line game. You need a stable fourth line so you can take a couple minutes off the big boys. You have to know what your role is and play a certain way.’’