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Patrick making case for top of 2017 Draft

Brandon forward had one point at Memorial Cup but stellar season in WHL

by Derek Van Diest / NHL.com Correspondent

RED DEER, Alberta -- Center Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League had one assist in three games at the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup, which was a reflection of his team's struggles in the tournament.

Despite his lack of offesive production, Patrick, 17, is considered a candidate to be the No. 1 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

Brandon, the WHL champion, went 0-3 at the Memorial Cup, and was eliminated Wednesday with a 2-1 overtime loss to host Red Deer.

"We had much higher hopes coming into the tournament than how it played out," Brandon coach Kelly McCrimmon said. "The three teams that played the best are the three teams that are still playing. Credit to those teams and it'll be a great finish to this tournament, no doubt about that. Somewhere between Seattle and Red Deer we lost our mojo and we never got going anywhere near the level we had it going in the playoffs."

That includes Patrick, who had 13 goals and a league-leading 30 points in 21 WHL playoff games and was named the league's postseason MVP. That followed a regular season of 41 goals and a fifth-place finish in the league with 102 points.

The son of former NHL forward Steve Patrick and nephew of former NHL defenseman James Patrick, Nolan said he knew the Memorial Cup would be a difficult tournament.

"This is different than playoffs," he said. "You have to treat every game like it's Game 7. Each game has a big impact on how the tournament is going to go for your team. We had to be ready to play every game. You can't afford to take a night off here."

Patrick had an assist in Brandon's 5-3 loss against Rouyn-Noranda, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion, on Saturday. Brandon then lost 9-1 to London, the Ontario Hockey League champion, on Monday.

The loss to Red Deer was a bitter end to the season, but Patrick's return will put the player and the team in spotlight for 2016-17.

"I'm just going to have to live through it," Patrick said of the draft-year attention. "I'll try not to focus on that too much when I'm playing. Right now I'm not thinking about where I'm projected to go in the draft and things like that. I'm just going to try to continue working hard, and hopefully the team's winning [next season] and that's the only thing I'm really going to focus on."

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound forward is considered to have all the tools needed to be an impact NHL player. His birthday, Sept. 19, 1998, is five days past the cutoff for the 2016 draft. Had he been eligible it's likely he would have been a first-round pick. Instead he'll likely be at the top of the 2017 draft class.

"He's been making waves for a long time," Brandon forward John Quenneville (New Jersey Devils) said. "He was our rookie of the year last year. He's a great player obviously. We have a lot of veteran guys and people consider him to just be another veteran guy, but he's 17 years old. He's a young player. At that age most guys are playing in their first year in the league and he's the MVP of the [WHL] playoffs. Obviously he's a super-special player. It's one thing to be a great player in the regular season and get 100 points and play the way he did. But to be able to regroup and move on from that and play the way that he did in the playoffs, is incredible."

There was little to rave about for Brandon during the Memorial Cup, though.

"You need to bring your best game every night and Game 1 and Game 2 we didn't bring our best game," Brandon forward Tim McGauley (Washington Capitals) said Wednesday. "I thought tonight we were better but we still weren't as good as we could be."

Red Deer left wing Evan Polei scored at 3:50 of overtime, capitalizing on a defensive-zone turnover by Brandon center Duncan Campbell.

Brandon defeated Red Deer in five games in the third round of the WHL playoffs.

Red Deer will play Rouyn-Noranda in the semifinal Friday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2). The winner will play London in the final Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2).

"We can enjoy this tonight but we can't get too high," Polei said. "We have to be level-headed going into Friday's game. We're playing [Rouyn-Noranda] again and they're not an easy team to play against."

Red Deer defeated Rouyn-Noranda 5-2 on Sunday.
 
MEMORIAL CUP OF JOE

What we learned: Don't count out Red Deer. After losing 6-2 to London in the tournament opener and trailing Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 2-0 in their second game, Red Deer battled back to earn a place in the semifinal. Red Deer scored five consecutive goals to defeat Rouyn-Noranda 5-2 and eliminated Brandon with a 2-1 overtime win Wednesday, avenging a third-round WHL playoff defeat.

Key moment: Brandon center Duncan Campbell turns the puck over in his own zone to Red Deer center Conner Bleackley, who finds Evan Polei with a cross-crease pass for the overtime goal.  

Player of the game: Polei. Scored the winning goal at 3:50 of overtime to give Red Deer a 2-1 victory and a berth in the semifinal game Friday against Rouyn-Noranda.

Quotable: "It's a tough tournament. If you lose a couple of games your back's against the wall. And if you lose three you're done. So you have to bring your best game every night and we just didn't do that tonight." -- Brandon center Tim McGauley (Washington Capitals).  

Friday's game: Semifinal, Red Deer vs Rouyn-Noranda (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2)

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