BRANDON, Manitoba -- Brandon center Nolan Patrick, who could be selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, said he's feeling good again.
The road to get there wasn't easy after missing 35 games because of an upper-body injury, but the 18-year-old seems to have regained the form that NHL scouts craved the past two seasons in the Western Hockey League.
"Missing three months is tough in getting your cardio and timing back and getting into the swing of things," Patrick said. "I think every game I play I'm starting to feel better and [a 6-1 win against Calgary on Friday] was one of the best games I've felt this year.
"It's a big step for me and a big step for the team to get the win."
He returned from his injury Jan. 13, and in 23 games has 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) and is a plus-7. He has 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) and is a plus-10 in 28 games this season.
"He's so far ahead, thinking wise, that I believe if he was in his draft year with the team Brandon had last year or the year before he'd probably have 150 points this year, even after missing three months," NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan said. "He just sets guys up left and right."
Brandon ended a six-game losing streak (0-4-2) with the win against Calgary, and Patrick, Brandon's captain, helped lead the way with a goal and two assists. He has at least a point in all but five games since his return from injury, and has 14 multipoint games this season.
Patrick (6-foot-3, 198 pounds), a right-shot center, is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters for the 2017 draft. He said the pressure of being No. 1 hasn't gotten the best of him.
"I don't really feel it too much because when I'm out there I'm not thinking about the draft in mid-game," 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."
Right wing Stelio Mattheos (6-1, 190), No. 23 on Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters, has played on a line with Patrick for most of the season.
"You can just see he's winning more battles, is skating a lot better, and his scoring touch is there too [since returning]," Mattheos said.
Patrick was recognized as Brandon's IMPACT Player of the Month for February on Friday after he had 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 14 games. The award is presented to a Brandon player who contributes to the team and exemplifies the characteristics of IMPACT: Inspire, Motivate, Participate, Achieve, Champion and Team.
"When Nolan returned to the lineup he was close to 100 percent physically, but obviously getting into that game shape and regaining your timing takes a bit of time," Brandon coach David Anning said. "He's been able to produce for us. He's had good numbers since returning and he's played in all situations. As we get into the stretch drive you can see that he's looking more like the Nolan you saw last year when he played every game and was in top form."
Last season Patrick was fifth in the WHL with 102 points (41 goals, 61 assists) in 72 games. In the WHL playoffs he was tied for the scoring lead with 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 21 playoff games helped Brandon win the league championship and was named the most valuable player of the playoffs.
"The biggest thing is his timing, it gets better and better," Brandon general manager Grant Armstrong said. "When you're off you can't practice at a high rate or high pace and he's starting to become more comfortable. He's such a smart player with the way he does things with the puck. With more repetition the better he'll get."
The player who could challenge Patrick for the No. 1 draft spot is center Nico Hischier of Halifax. Hischier is No. 2 on Central Scouting's midterm list, and leads all rookies in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in goals (38), assists (44), points (82), power-play points (28) and shorthanded points (seven) in 51 games.