RED DEER, Alta. — A long season for Nolan Patrick is over.
An even longer one beckons, starting in less than three months.
Such is the life of a hockey phenom.
Patrick is currently projected to be the No. 1 pick in for the 2017 NHL draft, at this point rated more highly than his peers just as Connor McDavid was last year and Auston Matthews is this year.
Shortly after Matthews goes first overall next month in Buffalo to the Toronto Maple Leafs, you can bet the focus will turn to Patrick, and what teams will be willing to do to position themselves to draft the 6-foot-3, 195- pound centre of the Brandon Wheat Kings.
A lot, would be the early guess.
Patrick, then just 16, led Canada to a gold medal at the prestigious Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament last August in the Czech Republic, then was a key player as the Wheat Kings won the Western Hockey League championship. Patrick was second on Kelly McCrimmon’s team in regular season scoring, and led the club in playoff scoring as the WHL’s most valuable player for the post-season.
Here at the MasterCard Memorial Cup, however, by his own admission, Patrick was “average at best,” and so were the Wheat Kings, who crashed and burned with three straight losses to be the first team eliminated.
A disappointed McCrimmon, who stayed with Brandon last summer rather than accept a scouting position with the Leafs, said afterwards the team just seemed to lose its “mojo” somewhere between the WHL final against Seattle and the trip to Red Deer.
“We never got going anywhere near the level we had going in the playoffs,” said McCrimmon.
Older players like Ivan Provorov, captain Macoy Erkamps, Tim McGauley and John Quenneville were supposed to lead this Brandon team in this tournament, not the 17-year-old Patrick. But none played particularly well, although Quenneville scored a spectacular between-the-legs goal early in the tournament against Rouyn-Noranda.
Still, there was a lot of focus on Patrick, and he wasn’t able to score at all in the tournament or assert himself in any of the games, ending up with just one assist and 11 shots in three games for a Brandon team that only scored five goals in the tournament. Patrick seemed uncertain at times, not surprising in an event where much older players usually dominate.
Chalk this one up to experience.
By the end of next season, however, this 10-month journey may seem a leisurely stroll by comparison.
There will be a Team Canada world junior camp in the summer, then the start of a WHL season where he will be the No. 1 attraction in the league. Almost certainly, he’ll be part of the World Junior Championships in Toronto and Montreal, plus the Top Prospects game in Quebec City, then the draft lottery in April, and then another run at a WHL title and the Memorial Cup, which will be held in Windsor.
Hanging over all of this, of course, will be the challenge of going wire-to-wire as the No. 1 prospect for the NHL draft like McDavid and Matthews. McDavid fended off a challenge from Jack Eichel, Matthews looks as though he’ll be drafted just ahead of Patrik Laine of Finland and Patrick, well, it’s not clear who will mount the challenge. But you can bet there will be one.
Possible Rivals to Nolan Patrick
|Maxime Comtois||LW||Victoriaville (QMJHL)||6’1″||189 lbs|
|Eeli Tolvanen||F||Sioux City (USHL)||6’0″||181 lbs|
|Nicolas Hague||D||Mississauga (OHL)||6’5″||207 lbs|
|Michael Rasmussen||C||Tri-City (WHL)||6’5″||200 lbs|
|Scott Reedy||C||USNTDP (USHL)||6’1″||187 lbs|
|Timothy Liljegren||D||Rogle (Sweden)||5’11”||182 lbs|
|Kailer Yamamoto||RW||Spokane (WHL)||5’9″||160 lbs|
|Jaret Anderson-Dolan||C||Spokane (WHL)||5’10”||180 lbs|
|Cal Foote||D||Kelowna (WHL)||6’3″||198 lbs|
|Lias Anderson||F||Jonkoping (Sweden)||5’11”||200 lbs|
|Gabriel Vilardi||F||Windsor (OHL)||6’2″||193 lbs|
Patrick’s father, Steve, was a first round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres, the 20th overall pick in 1980, who played 250 NHL games. His younger brother, James, was the ninth overall pick the next year of the New York Rangers, played 20 seasons in the NHL and is now an assistant coach with the Dallas Stars.
Nolan, then, will be the third member of the family to go in the NHL’s first round, and almost certainly much higher than his dad and uncle. But the hockey universe, and the scale of scrutiny on the top draft picks, is completely different today.
“You can’t compare it now to when I was drafted,” said Steve Patrick. “Back then, my buddy Dave McDonald, whose dad was Ab McDonald and had played in the NHL, called me and said he’d heard on the radio that I had been drafted by Buffalo. That’s how I found out.”
His draft year was the year Doug Wickenheiser went first overall to Montreal, so he knows the hype that can precede a draft, and the disappointment if a No. 1 pick doesn’t turn into a star.
“If Nolan is drafted, we’ll be extremely proud,” said Steve Patrick, who works in real estate in Winnipeg. “If he’s first overall, it won’t make us any prouder.”
Growing up in Winnipeg, Nolan Patrick had the typical backyard rink, and always a double garage that was kept empty so there was room for two nets to shoot on and now has been converted into a gym. His older sister, Madison, plays hockey at the University of British Columbia, and his younger sister, Amy, plays minor bantam in Winnipeg, so it’s very much a total family effort.
“He didn’t get any more attention than the girls. Nolan was a funny little player at eight. I certainly didn’t look at him and think he’s gonna be a special player,” said Steve Patrick. “But he always saw the ice well and even when he was little he could pass the puck. He was a smaller kid and he sometimes played up a year, so I thought he had to be little sneakier to hold on to the puck.
“Plus, he had an older sister who could throw him in a snowbank, so he had to figure a way to keep the puck from her.”
Nolan worked through two broken collarbones as a young teen, and now has the setback of this Memorial Cup to work through. In Wednesday’s game against Red Deer, his usual linemate, 47-goal scorer Jayce Hawryluk, was a last-minute scratch, making the task a little tougher, and the Wheat Kings lost 2-1 in overtime.
“It doesn’t disappoint me. It’s part of learning as a player, and there’s a short window at this tournament to figure it out,” said Steve Patrick. “I know he didn’t feel he played as well as he could have.”
James Patrick calls frequently with advice on Nolan’s game, and Steve chips in with his own thoughts, but the path from here to the 2017 NHL draft – all the attention, hype and scrutiny – is uncharted for everyone in the Patrick clan.
“We’ll keep it on the down low as much as possible. It will be up to Nolan as far as how much he wants to pay attention to all of it,” said Steve Patrick. “You are who you are as a hockey player. You have to keep learning. We have good balance with James in the picture.
“He’ll keep his head on straight. And we’ll help out there.”