VOORHEES, N.J. - When the Flyers announced on Sept. 26 that Nolan Patrick had been diagnosed with a migraine disorder, there was a lot of unknown.
"We're hopeful," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said that night at Madison Square Garden (see story).
The healing process of a broken bone or strained muscle is predictable.
It's awfully difficult to forecast a recovery timeline with issues as complex as head injuries.
Unfortunately for Patrick and the Flyers, the unknown still surrounds his potential return. The 21-year-old center remains week to week after missing the season's opening month.
"There's no change in his status," Fletcher said Thursday following practice at Flyers Skate Zone. "We just continue to work with him and hope that he continues to improve."
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During training camp and the preseason, Patrick did solo on-ice work. He improved enough to start taking part in team practices and morning skates while wearing a non-contact jersey. However, he did not practice Thursday.
"If he gets closer to day to day, then he'd probably be in full contact practice," Fletcher said. "So at this point, we're still in the process and working with him. That's about all I can say."
When asked if he wouldn't be shocked if Patrick didn't play at all this season, Fletcher said:
I can't speculate on that. I'm an optimist. I can tell you he's a really important part of our team. You look at our situation now, we have two centermen, two key players on our team that are out. Nolan's a player who will help us win a lot of hockey games when he gets back. We're hopeful. It's a tough situation. Again, I won't speculate because I can't. I can't predict what will happen.
The Flyers on Thursday placed forward Scott Laughton (broken finger) on long-term injured reserve, which provides the team salary cap relief. Laughton was recently playing winger but opened the season at third-line center in place of Patrick. With both sidelined, the Flyers are short down the middle. As a result, Claude Giroux has played center the last five games when he has shown over the past two seasons that he is more productive playing on the first-line left wing.
"With Nolan's situation, obviously, there's more ambiguity I guess," Fletcher said. "It would be hard for any human being to predict when that will all come together for him.
"With Scotty Laughton, he had surgery, the surgery was successful. It's typically a four-week process. Doctors said it would be three to four weeks from [Wednesday], which would put him at 25 days from the date of the injury. And LTIR is 24, so that type of injury works well and it gives us some flexibility to maybe have a little more depth."
If the Flyers severely lack depth and scoring at center moving forward, 20-year-old prospect Morgan Frost will be an option. After back-to-back 100-point seasons at the junior level, the playmaking center has six points in seven games with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. Adding a player the caliber of Frost would allow Giroux to play left winger and Kevin Hayes to slide back up into a top-six center role.
But Fletcher and the Flyers don't sound like they are there yet.
However, things can change quickly as we've seen a month into the season (see story).
"I would say there are some big swings in his performance right now," Fletcher said of Frost.
"I think that's very, very typical for a 20-year-old player, first-year pro. There are big swings. They're not consistent performers at the pro level yet. You're trying to break some of their habits. His talent level speaks for itself. In terms of pace and puck management, playing without the puck, zone awareness and coverage, right now there are areas he needs to get better at it. He's made some progress, so we'll continue to allow him to develop down there.
"But certainly at some point, he's a smart, talented hockey player - he's going to get better at it. When he does, it will make him a better candidate to come up here.''
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