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Nolan Patrick gets four points in WHL return

Top prospect in 2017 NHL Draft missed 35 games because of sports hernia surgery

by Scott Billeck / NHL.com Correspondent

BRANDON, Manitoba -- Center Nolan Patrick, who could be the first player picked at the 2017 NHL Draft, had two goals and two assists for Brandon of the Western Hockey League on Friday in his return to action after missing more than three months because of an upper-body injury.

Patrick, 18, helped Brandon to an 8-5 victory against Kootenay in his first game since Oct. 11.

"It's just nice to be back out there," Patrick said. "It's never fun watching, so being back and getting a win on the first night back is obviously pretty nice."

Patrick, who started skating two weeks ago and returned to practiced last week week, scored a power-play goal at 12:04 of the first period. It was his fifth goal of the season and 10th point in seven games. He scored again on the power play at 6:24 of the second period.

Patrick assisted on Brandon's final two goals.

"My energy felt better than I was expecting and my legs felt good, so that's obviously a bonus," Patrick said.

Wheat Kings coach David Anning likened Patrick's return to a prized acquisition at the trade deadline, which in the WHL was Jan. 10.

"Basically, we acquired one of the best talents in the league that we haven't seen in our lineup, so it's a great boost to our dressing room," Anning said. "It allows us to have another threat, another guy who can produce offensively, and he's a huge part of our leadership. He's our captain, he's a big part of our dressing room, and any time you get those kind of leaders inserted in your dressing room … I think that's going to help our group."

Patrick's high-profile status this season hasn't affected him, Anning said.

"He's a true professional and he understands that the spotlight is on him," Anning said. "I think he's done a very good job handling it. He's a guy who goes about his business. He wants to be a pro and he acts like a pro. The way he handles himself on and off the ice is exactly how it is going to carry over at the next level."

Last season Patrick was fifth in the WHL with 102 points in 72 regular-season games. He then tied for the WHL scoring lead with 30 points in 21 playoff games and was named the most valuable player of the playoffs while helping Brandon win the championship.

However, Patrick sustained a sports hernia during the WHL conference finals and had surgery in July. He returned in time to start the season with Brandon but left the lineup after six games. Not only did he have to sit out nearly half the season, but he also missed a chance to play for Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"It's never fun being out, especially missing 35 games," Patrick said. "The main thing I focused on was just not getting negative about things. I can't really control how fast I was going to heal, so I just focused on the rehab and did as much as I could do to get better."

Patrick rehabilitated in Winnipeg, where he was raised, with former Atlanta Thrashers forward Jean-Pierre Vigier, who Patrick said was instrumental in getting back to 100 percent.

"He was on the ice with me every day," Patrick said. "He was huge for getting me back into shape and getting my timing back."

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