Now that the 2016 draft has passed, development camps have come and gone, and Auston Matthews has finally signed his entry-level contract, it’s time to turn our attention to the next consensus first overall pick. As things currently stand, that’s Nolan Patrick of the WHL champion Brandon Wheat Kings.
Patrick, a right-shooting center, hails from Winnipeg, and joined the Wheat Kings full-time in March of 2014 when the team called him up from the Winnipeg AAA Midget Thrashers to finish out their season. He’s going into his third full WHL season this fall, and stands a very good chance of hearing his name called first in Chicago next June.
Here are five things that you need to know about Patrick right now.
1. He’s at the top of Central Scouting’s list
The current list is merely a preliminary one — it’s called the Draft Futures List — and could very well change when the season gets going. However, based on what they know right now about the 2017 draft class, Central Scouting feels that out of the 148 North American skaters on the list, Patrick is the cream of the crop.
In his first full WHL season, Patrick earned Rookie of the Year honors. Last season, after scoring 102 regular season points (41 goals, 61 assists) in 72 games and adding 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 21 playoff games, he won a WHL championship with the Wheat Kings and was named WHL playoff MVP. He also played in the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
2. He’s got more in common with Auston Matthews than being ranked No. 1
Patrick missed being part of the 2016 draft by only four days. Remember the conversation surrounding player age, prompted by the Matthews versus Laine debate last season?
This has the opportunity to play out to Patrick’s detriment, as often scouts will look at two players of similar skill level and, if one is significantly older, be tempted to go with the younger player. It’s all about the development curve.
Of course, for that to happen, a player younger than him would have to significantly outplay him this season. A couple of players have the potential — Kailer Yamamoto of the Spokane Chiefs, also a late birthday, and Timothy Liljegren of the Rögle BK organization in Sweden, who won’t turn 18 until April, for example.
However, you only have to look at recent drafts to see how difficult it is to unseat someone once they become the consensus number one pick.
3. He recently had surgery, but he’ll be ready for training camp
Patrick went through surgery for a sports hernia in mid-July, the Wheat Kings announced, but expects to be ready for training camp when it begins at the end of August. While he was unable to participate in Canada’s recent World Junior Development Camp, he was still in attendance.
His lack of participation is unlikely to damage his chances of making the Canadian World Junior team this winter, however. Hockey Canada’s decision-makers were undoubtedly watching him throughout the WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup, and they’re familiar with what he’s capable of and what he can bring to the team. Patrick captained Team Canada Red in last year’s World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
4. He’s a scouting staff’s ideal power forward
A 6’3”, 194-pound center who is equally as dangerous passing as he is shooting, Patrick has fantastic offensive upside and incredible hockey sense. However, he’s not flashy. Patrick won’t be the guy deking and dangling around opposing players. Instead, his impact on the game is more subtle and cerebral.
He’s a big player, but he’s really smart. His awareness and ability to anticipate what’s going to happen allows him to know where to put himself and how to make plays that make a difference for his team every time he’s on the ice.
5. He’s fun to watch
You can quote all the stats in the world — and with good reason, because Patrick’s are great — but it should also be noted that Patrick is just plain fun to watch.