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Sunday Long Read

Nolan Patrick gets assist from family entering 2017 NHL Draft

Father, uncle of potential No. 1 pick played in League

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Nolan Patrick will attract plenty of attention at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo beginning Monday. It shouldn't be too overwhelming.

After all, the center for Brandon of the Western Hockey League is surrounded by a family of exceptional athletes who have experienced the spotlight.

Patrick might struggle to locate good video evidence of his father, Stephen, and his uncle, James, in their respective NHL heydays, but the pedigree is evident.

"I have an old VHS tape that's pretty scratched up, but that's about it," Stephen Patrick said. "But Nolan is confident in his game and extremely smart on the ice. That didn't come from me. That's him."

Don't let Dad fool you. The advice and encouragement Nolan has received has been invaluable. His mother, Carrie, who played volleyball at the University of Winnipeg and for the Canadian national team, probably is the best athlete of the bunch.

Nolan, 18, has a great command of the game, knows where to be on the ice and has a businesslike demeanor when discussing his responsibility as the second-youngest captain in the WHL. He also realizes the expectations associated with being No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft.

Many say he probably would have been a top-five pick if eligible for the Draft in 2016; he missed the cut by four days.

Nolan's athletic bloodline goes way back.

His great-grandparents left Ukraine for Glenella, Manitoba, in 1912, and Steve Sr., Nolan's grandfather, was born there on the family farm. When he was 18, Steve Sr. moved to Winnipeg, and he and his one brother changed their last name from Potrebka to Patrick.

While working out at the YMCA one day, a few friends asked Steve Sr. if he had interest in playing football for the Winnipeg Light Infantry. That led to a 13-year career as a tackle in the Canadian Football League with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from 1952-64. He won four Grey Cup titles and was even coached by Pro Football Hall of Famer Bud Grant.

"A lot of people don't know that story, but Dad was a strong man and he loved the game," Stephen Patrick said.

Stephen and James, who have five sisters, enjoyed hockey and worked their way up the ranks. Stephen, who played for Brandon in the WHL, was selected at No. 20 by the Buffalo Sabres in 1980. He played for the Sabres, New York Rangers and Quebec Nordiques before retiring in 1986 after six NHL seasons.

James Patrick was chosen at No. 9 by the Rangers in 1981. He played two seasons at the University of North Dakota and played for the Rangers, Hartford Whalers, Calgary Flames and Sabres in a 21-season NHL career that ended in 2003-04.

Nolan fell in love with the game, too, taking that passion and athletic spirit instilled from past generations onto the ice.

"His biggest strength is his hockey sense and vision," said James Patrick, who as an NHL defenseman scored 639 points (149 goals, 490 assists) in 1,280 games. "He's a pretty conscious two-way player. I think there are areas he needs to improve, as is the case in every young player, but even in games when there's not much going on or he gets one assist, I feel there are three or four instances where he made some high-end passes.

"He can find guys that are open and make plays. In order to be successful in the NHL today, you need guys who can make plays, can find open players. Nolan has that ability."

Nolan Patrick says it makes no difference to him whether he is drafted at No. 1 or No. 2. Patrick and Nico Hischier, the center for Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League who is No. 2 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, are the projected top two players of this draft class. However, you get the feeling Patrick would like nothing more than to be chosen No. 1.

"I want to be the best player I can be, and if that means going No. 1, then so be it," Patrick said.

Patrick understands no player selected is given a free pass onto an NHL roster.

"I think you can tell he's been brought up in a professional environment and you can tell he's been surrounded by guys who have been in the game at very high levels for a long time," Brandon coach David Anning said. "He's very professional on and off the ice, wants to be a pro and wants to handle himself the right way. He's not a big spotlight guy, doesn't need a lot of praise and doesn't need a lot of attention."

Nolan's two sisters, Madison, 21, and Aimee, 14, also play hockey. Madison plays defense at the University of British Columbia, and Aimee was a forward for the Titans Bantam AA team in Winnipeg.

Video: Mike Morreale discusses the upcoming NHL Draft

Nolan could be quite the success story once he begins his NHL career with whichever team calls his name in the first round of the 2017 Draft at United Center in Chicago on June 23. The New Jersey Devils hold the No. 1 pick and Philadelphia Flyers have the No. 2 selection.

"When I'm on the ice I'm not thinking about the Draft," Patrick said. "I'm just thinking about contributing to the team and getting the win. Obviously there are a lot of things in the media that you see, but I don't feel too much pressure."

James, despite his daily responsibilities as a Dallas Stars assistant this season, watched replays of Brandon games when he could.

"[Former NHL general manager] Darcy Regier used to talk a lot about how the second you're drafted, you're on a five-year course [to determine] whether you're going to fit into this League," James Patrick said. "It's all about getting better. I know it's a proud moment for the family, but it's just beginning for you. It's only a door to an opportunity."

Stephen coached Nolan when he was very young, but James is the one who seems to fire Nolan up during their summer skating sessions in Kenora, Ontario (Nolan's family and James each has a summer place in nearby Falcon Lake, Manitoba). Because James was busy with the Stars during the past four NHL seasons, the only chance he got to visit with his nephew was during those summer skates.

But James found another way to help Nolan, even if he couldn't spend much time with him.

"Last year, James made a video for Nolan with clips of almost every shift he had," Stephen said. "He'd put them in an email and point things out to him. That was beneficial for Nolan."

Providing video clips and advice when possible is something James enjoys doing for his nephew.

"I look at areas of [his] compete [level] and additionally where to be in the defensive zone, areas that he can hold on to pucks more, can move pucks quicker," James said. "Every team in the NHL plays the same way: You try and get pucks deep, hold on to the puck, have that middle lane to drive. I just want to see him succeed, want to help."

James said Nolan certainly has the advantage between the two in a race on the ice; it has been that way the past three years.

"You want to push him but want to see him have fun," James said. "There were times I knew I was pushing hard and he'd get frustrated. He'd be with a friend and I'd encourage battling for the puck, keeping two hands on the stick. I could outmuscle him then, keep the puck away from him. But it's not the same anymore. My thinking was if he can try and battle me, he'll be OK with the kids he's playing against when he's 15."

Brandon selected Patrick at No. 4 in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, and as a 16-year-old rookie he scored 56 points (30 goals, 26 assists) in 55 games in 2014-15.

It wasn't easy this season; he missed 35 games with an upper-body injury and four more in the WHL playoffs with a lower-body injury. Patrick's availability for the start of this season was in question after he had surgery in mid-July for a sports hernia. He finished the season with 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists), 15 multipoint games, a plus-9 rating and a 1.39 points-per game average in 33 games.

He has 205 points (92 goals, 113 assists) in 163 career WHL games.

"I'm 100 percent healthy," Patrick said. "Not many people know what happened with my injuries, so it was kind of staying positive and getting through it. I'm confident I can play a full season without getting injured; I'm confident in my abilities."

Patrick was fifth in the WHL with 102 points (41 goals, 61 assists) in 72 regular-season games in 2015-16. He tied for the WHL postseason scoring lead with 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 21 games and was named most valuable player of the playoffs after helping Brandon win the championship. He played in 105 games in 2015-16, counting the WHL regular season and playoffs and international events for Canada.

Stephen Patrick is proud of the way Nolan has dealt with pressure.

"He's handled it well, being on a team that was very successful for two years," he said. "He's aware that whoever drafts him is going to do what's best for him and try to develop him as much as they can. You don't stop training. That's a lifestyle Nolan has lived the past seven or eight years. He's worked out with his uncle, and it's about eating right but still having fun.

"If he needs a day off from training, that's fine. Go to the lake, do some fishing with friends. Be an 18-year-old kid."

Matt Ryan of NHL Central Scouting can see how Patrick may be influenced by his father and uncle on the ice.

Video: Breaking down the NHL Draft

"He puts himself in good areas to go from defense to offense and really dictate the play," Ryan said. "That's stuff you would think is coming from a guy with a good understanding of the game and who's been taught good fundamentals from a young age. A lot of guys don't seem to have that understanding of what effort level it takes to play at a high level with and without the puck. Nolan does."

Patrick's priority is gaining strength and having a productive offseason of training. It has been a tough season, but one that could also prove to be a valuable learning experience.

"I tell him, 'I don't care where you get drafted, I just want you to keep focused on getting better,'" James Patrick said. "'Are you better now than you were six months ago? Are you coming to the rink to try to get better in the offseason? Do you want to be the best player you can be and what are you doing in the offseason as far as workouts, diet and sleep?'

"Those are the things we've discussed for two years heading into his draft season."

Stephen Patrick has continually stressed to Nolan to work hard but to also enjoy the process. That's always been the Patrick way.

"He knows what he has to do and he's talked to trainers and coaches and has it all lined up," he said. "He's talked to some of the pro guys around Winnipeg and he'll skate with them. I have no worries that he'll put the time in.

"But he also has to remember to make sure he's having fun in whatever he's doing."

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