VOORHEES, N.J. – There were times last season when the Flyers had moments of doubt about the possible return of Nolan Patrick from a serious injury.
Hockey teams hate it when a player of any caliber faces a career-threatening situation, but in the case of a No. 2 overall draft pick, it just makes the scenario perhaps even a bit more depressing.
When news broke Patrick felt well enough to return from a lost year due to a chronic migraine headache condition and attend training camp, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
And when Patrick scored a goal in the Flyers’ 6-3 season-opening win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night, there were smiles all around.
After all, the comeback looks just about complete. The 2017 NHL Entry Draft second choice made it through the game with no ill effects and appears set to take on this 56-game season.
During a media Zoom call on Thursday, Patrick was asked about his level of excitement over the positive developments in his health and ability to play the sport he loves once again.
Was his first game back against the Penguins as exciting as the first NHL game he played in more than three years ago?
“It was really exciting to be back after being out for so long,’’ Patrick said. “It doesn’t really compare to my first NHL game but obviously it’s great to be around the team again.’’
It should be noted the Flyers threw Patrick right into the deep end of the pool, putting him in between two highly accomplished wingers in James van Riemsdyk and Jake Voracek.
Patrick said the support of his teammates also has been a factor. Prior to Wednesday night’s game, Travis Konecny, who sits next to Patrick in the Skate Zone locker room, gave him a big hug.
Kevin Hayes referred to Patrick as “an elite player.’’
“The support is awesome,’’ Patrick said. “Hayes helped me out through my injury in the tough times. . .TK (Konecny) as well. The whole team has supported me a lot. It’s extremely exciting to be back after everything I’ve been through.’’
Vigneault believes Patrick is back to where he was when he stood out during the 2018-19 season.
“You can see from the way he’s walking around, he’s in a good place right now,’’ Vigneault said after the Flyers’ practice. “He’s smiling, he’s going on the ice. He’s working hard, trying to improve, asking questions.
“Obviously there was some nervousness, anxiety on his part. But I think he transformed all that to excitement, the joy of being around his teammates. He’s trying to make everyday count.’’
The Flyers are keeping an eye on Patrick to make sure he doesn’t suffer from fatigue or a possible relapse.
“I think the best approach that he can have right now is one day at a time, try to get better and help this team win games,’’ Vigneault said. “He started last night (Wednesday night) and he started in good fashion.’’
Hayes keeps taking on a bigger leadership role with this team, even though he’s only starting his second season here. Helping Patrick seems only natural. They’re both centers, both have a lot of skill and you get a sense Hayes is a guy who really cares about other people.
Patrick’s goal came on the power play, which scored on its first two attempts against Pittsburgh.
Hayes said having Patrick back in the lineup helps the PP.
“When you have one more guy than the other team, it makes it easier when everyone is working hard,’’ Hayes said. “It makes it easier when you get guys like Nolan Patrick back. He kind of controls that power play and he is an elite player and he wanted the goal.’’
>Gostisbehere still in COVID protocol
Shayne Gostisbehere is still not back with the Flyers and was not on the ice for Thursday’s practice. Vigneault said he can not provide a date for his possible return.
>Three sent to Phantoms
The Flyers announced they have assigned defenseman Linus Hogberg and forwards David Kase and Maksim Sushko to the Phantoms of the American Hockey League.