Nolan Patrick is no longer satisfied with simply making the safe play as second-line center for the Philadelphia Flyers.
It's that mentality that has him playing some of his best hockey of the season.
"It's not like [coach Dave Hakstol] is telling me to do exactly one thing but he wants me to play fast, play heavy and play a strong game, so that's what I'm trying to do," Patrick said.
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Patrick (6-foot-2, 198 pounds) has 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) and is averaging 13:20 of ice time in 57 games this season. He isn't concerned about how he's not among the potential candidates to win the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year despite the attention he garnered as a junior-aged player with Brandon of the Western Hockey League for three seasons.
"For a little bit, it took awhile for my confidence to get going," Patrick said. "I'm hard on myself every game, so it doesn't matter if I'm in the spotlight or not."
Patrick, 19, ranks second among the 13 NHL rookies who have taken at least 300 face-offs with a 49.5 winning percent (274 of 554) behind David Kampf of the Chicago Blackhawks (51.8).
"I think if he's not winning the face-offs, he's probably not taking them," said Nolan's father and former NHL forward Stephen Patrick. "I remember when he was put on the second line and then moved to third line, and that was good because he realized he had to prove to them that he's ready full-time for that spot and that might have lit a fire under him to pick it up, including the face-offs."
Patrick has seven points (five goals, two assists), has won 52.6 percent of his face-offs (51 of 97), and is shooting 19.2 percent with an average of 16:27 of ice time over his past nine games.
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"I think Claude Giroux (59.4 percent; third in NHL) is one of the best, if not the best, in the League on face-offs, and Sean Couturier (53.7 percent) is also very good, so I always bounce ideas off them and they've been great helping me," Patrick said.
Since the day Patrick was chosen No. 2 in the 2017 NHL Draft, the Flyers stressed the importance of gradually breaking him into the mix, particularly after hernia and leg ailments limited him in his final season with Brandon and kept him from any serious off-ice conditioning program prior to joining the Flyers in the fall.
"He didn't have a normal three months of getting into top shape in the offseason so I guess he was a bit behind the eight ball," said Stephen Patrick. "I think he's in better shape now. His shifts are a little longer and I think with that comes the confidence of hanging on to the puck a bit more."
With a full summer of training ahead, the best might be yet to come.
Patrick was No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters eligible for the 2017 draft. Nico Hischier, No. 2 in Central Scouting's final North American rankings, was picked No. 1 by the New Jersey Devils. The two teenagers are the only players selected in the first round to remain with their NHL team all season. They each have played a role in helping keep alive hopes of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Hakstol began noticing a renewed level of confidence in Patrick's game after the NHL All-Star break when he had him between left wing Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds. He believes it's just a matter of time before Patrick becomes an elite-level player.
"That's one of the biggest developments in his game," Hakstol said. "Early on as a young guy I thought there were times he was just trying to make a safe play and move the puck to somebody else."
Said Patrick: "Now I'm trying to make the plays I would usually make in Brandon. I make those plays when I have confidence and when I'm just trying to play the game I've played my whole life. Right now, it's all about playing with confidence and working off linemates (Oskar Lindblom and Voracek)."
Video: PHI@OTT: Patrick scores on nifty redirect
Simmonds has been out since Feb. 18 with an upper-body injury.
"Nothing in this League is handed to you," Patrick said. "You have to earn everything and I think I've earned the spot I'm in right now."
Flyers right wing Travis Konecny said it was just a matter of finding that confidence each game, something Konecny experienced as a rookie last season.
"You know the skills he has; those are never going to go away," Konecny said. "The biggest thing I've noticed is his confidence in the defensive zone. He's going to be a No. 1 center someday, you can see it. He's only 19 and he's playing against some of the best guys in the League as a top-six center in the NHL. That's something not heard of very often."