No Nolan Patrick, No Morgan Frost, So Now What for the Flyers at Center?

NEW YORK - The Flyers are ready to help Nolan Patrick.

And now they'll need their available players to help down the middle.

Patrick, the 2017 second overall draft pick, was diagnosed with a migraine disorder Thursday afternoon. He remains week to week and will not travel with the team to Europe for the preseason finale or Oct. 4 season opener (see story).

"He's been as involved as he can be," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said at Madison Square Garden before the team's preseason game against the Rangers. "He's been in all the video sessions, he's been skating, he's been working out.

"Unfortunately he has that condition. I read the statement like you did. Our medical staff feels that with the proper treatment, it can be under control. Hopefully it will be sooner than later but the young man has to get healthy and I have to deal with the players that are healthy right now and he's not one of them."

The 21-year-old Patrick was slated to be the Flyers' third-line center in 2019-20 behind Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes. The Flyers need to adjust their plan.

One prospect no longer in the picture is Morgan Frost. The exciting playmaker played only two exhibition games because of a groin strain and will be sent to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. The injury to Frost came at an unfortunate time in multiple ways. Not only are preseason games precious opportunities to prove yourself, but Patrick's ailment also opened the window for Frost, who has been able to play just three exhibition games over the past two preseasons.

The 20-year-old's time with the Phantoms will be his biggest chance yet to show his offensive upside at the pro level. If he does, he'll be knocking on the door for a call-up during this season.

"He was right there," Vigneault said. "He was in the mix. He was battling hard. He was playing well. Unfortunately, he didn't get on the score sheet with the number of opportunities that he had whereas some of the other kids have been able to do it."

As a third-line replacement, Vigneault will turn to Scott Laughton, who has developed into a critical bottom-six guy for the Flyers. In 2018-19, Laughton delivered career highs in goals (12), assists (20), games (82) and ice time per game (14:51). He was also second on the Flyers in shorthanded ice time (183:52), behind only Couturier (184:51).

"The way Scotty Laughton has played in the middle, he's played very well, extremely dependable, hard worker and that's sort of what I'm looking for in that position," Vigneault said. "At this time, he's sort of got that role locked down."

The underlying question is can Laughton provide enough offense? The 25-year-old could have a talented winger like Oskar Lindblom or James van Riemsdyk - maybe even Joel Farabee - on his line.

It would be somewhat surprising to see Claude Giroux return to the middle, given his preference for the wing and his career-best success at the position. However, it's an obvious option to provide a significant boost at center and have a winger step up.

"The ultimate card, but I could decide to play Claude in the middle at some point," Vigneault said. "We tried him there in the exhibition and that's a possibility moving forward. I've got a feeling it's going to take us a little bit of time here to figure all of this out, there will be some moving parts for quite a bit of time I think."

Connor Bunnaman is the sleeper in this equation. The 21-year-old is a big body with a fourth-line makeup. He's played just one year of pro hockey in Lehigh Valley. If Bunnaman can hold his own and show he belongs in a fourth-line center role at the NHL level, the Flyers won't have to make as many positional tweaks.

"He's been the best player in training camp," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "He was outstanding in the practices. His first game wasn't great, but he's gotten better and better and better. By best player, I mean in terms of expectations. He's come in and blown them away."

Once again, the Flyers need some help down the middle, or at least through the early stages of 2019-20. Imagine if they didn't get Hayes?

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