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Wheat Kings rookie forward Nolan Patrick making big impression

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/1/2015 (1286 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BRANDON -- We could tell you about how good Nolan Patrick is.

We could tell you, for instance, how at the tender age of 16 and still in his rookie season with the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings, Patrick is killing penalties, playing the point on the power play and averaging almost a point per game.

We could tell you also about his hockey bloodlines and about how his father, Steve, was an NHL first-rounder and his uncle, James, was one of the best NHL defencemen this province ever produced.

We could tell you about the 100-foot tape-to-tape passes like the one he lasered through traffic in a game here the other night to spring a teammate loose on a partial breakaway. We could tell you about the hard work in his own zone. We could tell you about a 6-3, 191-pound frame that makes you gaze and wonder what the kid is going to look like when he actually grows up.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/1/2015 (1286 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BRANDON — We could tell you about how good Nolan Patrick is.

We could tell you, for instance, how at the tender age of 16 and still in his rookie season with the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings, Patrick is killing penalties, playing the point on the power play and averaging almost a point per game.

Brandon Sun Brandon Wheat Kings Nolan Patrick is following in the footsteps of father and uncle.

BRUCE BUMSTEAD / BRANDON SUN

Brandon Sun Brandon Wheat Kings Nolan Patrick is following in the footsteps of father and uncle.

We could tell you also about his hockey bloodlines and about how his father, Steve, was an NHL first-rounder and his uncle, James, was one of the best NHL defencemen this province ever produced.

We could tell you about the 100-foot tape-to-tape passes like the one he lasered through traffic in a game here the other night to spring a teammate loose on a partial breakaway. We could tell you about the hard work in his own zone. We could tell you about a 6-3, 191-pound frame that makes you gaze and wonder what the kid is going to look like when he actually grows up.

But what's the point in us telling you all that when you can hear it — and much, much more — from the people who live and play everyday with a kid already being touted as the Next One to come out of the hockey factory that is the Wheat Kings.

Let's start with Wheaties teammate John Quenneville, who knows more than a little about what it's like to play with the high expectations that come with having a famous hockey surname (Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville is his cousin).

"I honestly don't have words to explain to you what I've seen in this kid," Quenneville said this week. "He's absolutely unbelievable. I haven't seen a player of this age in this league — or any league at his age — do what he does. It's absolutely incredible.

"He's such a smart player and such a skilled player. For him to do what he's done — it's amazing. He's walked into this league and he makes it look every night like he's been playing here for four years. Incredible — that's the only word I've got."

Did we mention Quenneville is a first-round pick of the New Jersey Devils and knows more than most about what it takes to play hockey at the highest level?

Yeah, you're saying, but in a week in which Randy Carlyle just lost his job with the Toronto Maple Leafs because he was surrounded by a bunch of players deemed "uncoachable," what's it like to coach a kid as precocious as Patrick?

"He's a great kid and he plays a 200-foot game," says longtime Wheaties assistant coach Darren Ritchie. "He plays goal-line to goal-line and we feel comfortable putting him in any situation.

"He reminds me a lot of Brayden Schenn, actually. I was fortunate enough to also coach Brayden at 16 and they're comparable. They're competitors, they want to win and they're good hockey guys."

Schenn, of course, went on from Brandon to become a fifth-overall draft pick in the NHL. He's playing these days with the Philadelphia Flyers, where he's on pace to record his second straight 20-goal season.

So what's Patrick like off the ice? And does he have the toughness to make it in the NHL?

Steve Patrick is admittedly a bit biased on the subject. But he's travelled the same path, playing his junior hockey for the Wheat Kings (current Wheaties boss Kelly McCrimmon was a teammate). Patrick went on to become a first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres and play six seasons in the NHL.

"He's got determination and he is very competitive," Patrick says of his son. "And he will know everyone in the league very quickly because he's got that interest to know who's who and what they do and how they play.

"And I've seen some physical aspects of his game that have gotten better already as this season has gone on," Patrick continued. "The physical play isn't really his game but I've seen him getting more comfortable with going to the net, standing in front of the net, taking the puck to the net. I don't know if that was there as much at the start of the year as it is now."

The most compelling question whenever the children of pro athletes follow in their parents' footsteps is always whether it's more a case of nature or nurture. Clearly, the younger Patrick inherited some good hockey genes — his father was listed at 6-4, 205 when he played in the NHL, suggesting the youngster still has some growing to do.

But how much did growing up in a hockey home play into his development? It's been both everything and nothing, says the younger Patrick.

"I just love the game," says Patrick. "They introduced me to it when I was younger, obviously. But it's not like they've been pushing to play a game I didn't love. I was in the garage every day working on my shot by myself. My dad didn't push me to do that.

"But they're also obviously huge helps," says Patrick. "My uncle and dad are both talking to me every day and giving me tips on both ends of the game. If I was a Jones or Smith, I wouldn't have a father or an uncle who could help me out ever day with my game. It's helped me a lot."

As impressive as Patrick has been this season offensively — he's third in rookie scoring in the WHL with 17 goals and 16 assists in 36 games — its his attention to detail in his own end that has earned him the most gushing praise.

Sixteen-year-old hockey players with short attention spans tend to focus on turning on the little red light, not the little things in your own end that win hockey games. But Patrick — as well- parented and well-coached as he is — doesn't see the game that way.

"I've always wanted to be a two-way player and be just as good at both ends of the ice," he says. "The thing I hate the most is getting a minus at the end of the night. So I try to be as good as I can down there and I think it's paying off this year."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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Updated on Thursday, January 8, 2015 at 8:36 AM CST: Adds photo, changes headline

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