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Baker's Top 31: #1 Nolan Patrick

Kris Baker counts down the top 2017 NHL Draft prospects

by Kris Baker @SabresProspects / SabresProspects.com

Kris Baker is once again counting down his list of top prospects available in the NHL Draft for Sabres.com. The first round of the 2017 NHL Draft will take place on June 23 in Chicago.

Position: Center
Team: Brandon (WHL) 

With high-end skill and a very detail oriented game, Nolan Patrick is a do-it-all player who, when healthy, consistently excels with a mature 200-foot style in the mold of longtime NHLer, and 2003 second-overall pick, Eric Staal. 

Like Staal, Patrick plays a power style using his body to win battles and leveraging his long reach to shield the puck. He has excellent speed in open ice with an ability to let shots fly accurately from all angles. Patrick mixes in a little finesse as well with a soft-handed passing game.

The son of former Sabres forward Steve and nephew of Lindy Ruff-era defenseman and coach James, Patrick entered the season as the consensus first selection following multiple years of dominance in his age group, including a 2015-16 season that saw him co-lead the WHL with 102 points (41+61) before piling up another 30 (13+17) in 21 games to lead the Wheat Kings to a WHL title and Memorial Cup berth.

The 2016-17 season, though, dealt Patrick a much different hand.

First, off-season surgery for a sports hernia forced Patrick to miss Canada's World Junior Showcase event in August. When his season got rolling, an upper-body injury knocked him completely out of consideration for the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. To add insult to the injury string, Patrick was unable to compete in the Wheat Kings' first-round playoff loss to Medicine Hat with a lower-body ailment.

In all, Patrick still recorded 20 goals and 46 points in 33 games, but scouts are left questioning what his long-term health projection looks like.

If Patrick has truly kicked the bug, he is no doubt worthy of the first-overall selection. He finds himself in a situation that doesn't allow scouts to let his bloodlines or previous years of production speak for themselves, though, so the NHL Draft Combine, where Patrick promised teams that his body will be ready for the rigors of NHL come September, became an important tool in the process to convince teams he is suited for the long professional haul.

Time will tell if he can keep his promise, but there is no denying that Patrick packs the size and playmaking sense to be relied upon as an immediate NHL performer.

For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker's website, SabresProspects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@SabresProspects).

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