Brandon Wheat Kings centre Nolan Patrick is anything but a typical 16-year-old rookie trying to learn the ropes in the Western Hockey League. Just 52 games into his freshman season, he has already asserted himself as one of the top forwards in the league. He has racked up 26 goals and 49 points while using his smooth skating ability, superb vision and imposing 6-foot-3, 192-pound frame to his advantage.
“I didn’t really set any big goals for this year,” says Patrick, who shares the rookie spotlight in Brandon with blueliners Ivan Provorov and Kale Clague. “I knew what to expect because of the games I played last year (as an underage call-up) and wanted to get better and better this year. I started off a bit slow, but my confidence went up around Christmas and that’s when I started playing better (11G-19P-17GP in 2015).”
Brandon GM-head coach Kelly McCrimmon hasn’t been taken off guard by Patrick’s impressive season. The Winnipeg, Man., native was expected to be an impact player straight out of the gate as a rookie partially based on what he showed in nine playoff games last season. In addition to that, he proved he has the ability to adapt seamlessly to higher levels in Manitoba's midget ‘AAA’ league last year, scoring 33 goals and 63 points in 39 contests for the Winnipeg Thrashers.
“We did have high expectations on him (Patrick) coming into this year because he played in a lot of big games for us last year,” says McCrimmon, who chose Patrick with the No. 4 pick in the 2013 bantam draft. “He played in all of our playoff games last year and was comfortable with us and was already a contributor last season. So we kind of knew what to expect and where he would fit in.”
Some credit for Patrick’s success can be attributed to how he plays on one of the deepest offenses in the WHL. He skates alongside five NHL-drafted forwards, John Quenneville (New Jersey Devils), Peter Quenneville (Columbus Blue Jackets), Morgan Klimchuk (Calgary Flames), Reid Duke (Minnesota Wild) and Jayce Hawryluk (Florida Panthers), not to mention one of the league’s top two-way centres, Tim McGauley. He acknowledges Hawryluk and Peter Quenneville specifically for helping speed up his development.
“It is good to be on a team with a lot of talented and older players,” says Patrick, who is the son of former NHLer Steve Patrick and nephew of Dallas Stars assistant coach James Patrick. “I’ve played on lines with Jayce (Hawryluk) and (Peter) Quenneville and have learned from them. They open up space for me on the ice and help me out by showing me things that they have learned in the league.”
Patrick isn’t the first Wheat King to quickly develop into one of the team’s best forwards as a rookie. In 2007-08 alone, Brayden Schenn, Scott Glennie and Matt Calvert were three of Brandon’s top scorers in their freshman seasons. Among that trio and other recent big rookie seasons, McCrimmon feels Schenn is the closest comparable to Patrick.
“The most recent comparable for a rookie forward would be Brayden Schenn,” says Brandon’s bench boss. “He led our team in scoring that year (28G-71P-66GP), but we didn’t have as deep of an offense as we do this year. The common trait that they both have is how they both continued to improve and work on getting better. Patrick has raised his level of play throughout the year and hasn’t stopped improving his play. His high rate of development is impressive and it’s a sign of a good player – the good guys don’t stop improving.”
Patrick won’t walk up to the NHL draft podium until 2017 because of his late 1998 birthdate on Sept. 19. It is early, but all indications are that he will be one of the first players selected in the draft based on his skill set and current development projection.
“A lot can happen between now and then, but he’s the total package and players like that don’t wait long to hear their names called,” says an NHL scout. “I’m reminded of (Calgary Flames centre) Sean Monahan when I look at Patrick. They both have size, skill and will have three years of junior before they are drafted. Now Monahan has proven himself in the NHL and is developing into a legitimate star in the NHL, but if you take a 16-year-old Monahan and a 16-year-old Patrick, I don’t think too many would take Monahan over Patrick – that shows you how much upside Patrick has.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen