Nolan Patrick and the Problem with Labeling Players 'Busts'

Pro players
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Ariel Melendez
Pro players
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If you only have a few minutes to spare, here's what you should know:
There is a harmful nature of using the word “bust” when it comes to players who have no control over why they can’t produce.
The negative attention that comes will being labeled a “bust” can create a cycle in which the player struggles mentally to contribute.
Using the word “bust” creates an unhealthy cycle when it comes to players who have high expectations thrust upon them at young ages.

Nolan Patrick Drafted Second Overall by the Flyers

Nolan Patrick was a highly-touted prospect coming into the 2017 NHL Draft, expected by most to be the best player available.

His game felt complete, as his hockey sense and competitiveness stood out. It was a bit of a surprise when he fell to the Philadelphia Flyers, who held the second-overall pick, after the New Jersey Devils. Nico Hischier, a rookie center for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, came off the board first, leaving the Flyers with an easy choice in drafting Patrick.

The forward didn’t come without concerns, having played just 33 games for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings heading into his draft year. He still managed to score 20 goals and 46 points, despite dealing with a sports hernia.

A little over a week before the draft, Patrick underwent corrective surgery. The other side of his groin was repaired the previous summer.

There were rumors that the Flyers’ scouting department wasn’t high on Patrick and were looking at either Umass Minutemen defender Cale Makar or Finnish defender Miro Heiskanen.

Former general manager Ron Hextall ultimately selected Patrick instead..If he could do it again, would he make that same decision, knowing what we know now?

Nonetheless, Patrick was ready for the 2017-18 season, appearing in 73 games his first year and 72 games in his second. He combined for 26 goals and 61 points – not exactly shining numbers for a second-overall pick.

Bruce Bennett
Nolan Patrick when he was drafted second overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2017

Nolan Patrick Diagnosed with Migraine Disorder

During the summer of 2019, Patrick began suffering from headaches that impacted his off-season training.

He made the Flyers aware of the situation in June and continued to work out to the best of his abilities. At training camp that September, Patrick was listed as suffering with an upper-body injury.

After numerous appointments, landing him in a neurologist’s office, the diagnosis came in the form of a migraine disorder.

Patrick had suffered a few hits to the head during his career, but weren’t thought to have been the cause, as there is a family history of migraines. Migraines are headaches that can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation that is typically on one side of the head.

Patrick’s symptoms were never made public.

Some of what he could have been facing was nausea, vomiting, or extreme sensitivity to light and sound. These symptoms, varying from person to person, can last hours or even days, interfering with one’s daily life.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, those who suffer from migraines can take preventative measures such as exercising regularly, not skipping meals, and getting seven to nine hours of sleep.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for a migraine disorder.

Taking medications and the above measures can help limit how often and how severe the migraines may be. Patrick did not play a single game during the 2019-20 season, with rest and medication being part of the treatment process.

He began skating with the team in February 2020, a month prior to the season being shut down due to COVID-19. When the team returned a few months later, Patrick did not join them.

He was medically cleared the following season and appeared in 52 of the Flyers’ 56 games, including his first game in 650 days to start the season. He scored just four goals, totalling nine points on the season, stating that he “felt like he came in behind the eight-ball” and that he avoided contact at times due to his migraine disorder.

In 2021, Patrick was eventually traded to the Vegas Golden Knights, after the Nashville Predators briefly acquired the forward, along with defender Phillipe Myers, in exchange for veteran defender Ryan Ellis. He was flipped to Vegas immediately, sending center Cody Glass to Nashville.

If what he needed was a fresh start, there wasn’t much of an opportunity in Vegas. He appeared in just 25 games during the 2021-22 season and did not take the ice over this last season. The Golden Knights never shared many details about his injury, despite rumors of his migraine disorder reappearing.

He did suffer a concussion in February 2022, and missed close to a month, but returned to play seven games after that.

Vegas won the Stanley Cup in 2023, with Patrick playing too few games to qualify for his name on the championship trophy. The team did not petition to include him, and later that summer failed to issue him a qualifying offer, leaving him as an unrestricted free agent.

At 24 years old, Nolan Patrick has a luxury few young players are afforded – he’s in control of his career. But with his health on the line, what options exist?

Brandon Andreasen
Since being acquired by the Vegas Golden Knights in July of 2021, Nolan Patrick only played 25 games, dressing up for none in 2023-2024 due to injuries.

The Problem with Labeling Players “Busts”

The word “bust” is often used when a player does not live up to expectations that were put on them at a young age.

Those players usually were high draft picks or had high pedigrees based on the success of those around them.

Nolan Patrick has been labeled as a bust.

Before his draft, there was a lot of hype about Patrick’s game and the fact that he was expected to be the top pick. Compare that to his career stats – 32 goals and 77 points in 222 games – and that second-overall pick might start to sound like a bust.

That is where the problem lies.

Too often, the term “bust” is used without looking at all of the potential factors. Patrick suffered numerous injuries throughout his career, even going back as far as before his time in junior hockey.

The migraine disorder, though, is the biggest of them all. The symptoms aren’t easily dealt with, and there is no cure. There is no clear answer for why the headaches popped up when they did. It remains uncertain if he will ever be able to play again.

That doesn’t sound like a player who didn’t live up to expectations. That sounds like a player who has had his entire career derailed because of a disorder that he has no control over. It sounds like someone who may not ever again play the game he loves thanks to the migraines that have plagued him for years.

That’s the harmful nature of using the word “bust” when it comes to players who have no control over why they aren’t able to produce.

Take Jesperi Kotkaniemi, for example.

The forward did not have control over playing for Montreal Canadiens just three months after he was drafted third overall in 2018. Kotkaniemi admitted in an interview with The Hockey News that in hindsight, he probably would’ve been better off going back to Finland. In the same interview, Kotkaniemi mentioned that the Montreal media could get into one’s head fast when reading it all.

That negative attention creates a feedback loop – a player is not in a position to succeed, gets negative attention for not succeeding, which keeps him from mentally being in a position to succeed.

Since signing an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2021, Kotkaniemi has thrived in a new environment.

A more recent example is David Reinbacher, drafted by the Canadiens with the fifth overall selection in June.

the The word bust wasn’t specifically used, but the expectations of the players still available when he was drafted resulted in pushback that was ultimately the same. The selection was heavily criticized to the point of Reinbacher receiving death threats, leading to the team considering not bringing him to development camp due to the backlash.

A group of fans came together to show support for Reinbacher, making him a book of their kind words.

So why hasn’t Patrick received similar support? It’s easy to look back years later and say that a player never should’ve been taken or that a different player was the better option.

Hindsight is 20/20 and in this case, calling Patrick a bust is the problem.

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