On Nolan Patrick, Stephen Johns and remembering the real cost of head injuries
Just some thoughts on Nolan Patrick's retirement.
I originally was going to write something about Logan Stankoven and Mavrik Bourque this morning.
The Texas Stars duo are currently leading the AHL in scoring, and I have a piece coming today at D Magazine. I’m still going to write an accompanying piece to that story, with videos and AHL analytics and all that, but we’ll save that for tomorrow.
(I also have a pretty good story coming later this week on Grand Rapids Griffins coach Dan Watson, fascinating story there.)
Instead I want to take a moment to talk about Nolan Patrick’s retirement, which was made official this morning.
Editor’s note: apparently it is not official and those reports were misrepresented somewhat. The following piece remains relevant.
Patrick hasn’t played an NHL game since he left a game for the Vegas Golden Knights on a high hit by Nathan MacKinnon during the 2021-22 season. He missed the remainder of that season, didn’t play during the 2022-23 season, and is now moving onto life after professional hockey.
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Patrick’s name will always remind me of Miro Heiskanen.
It makes sense, the Philadelphia Flyers took Patrick at No. 2 in the 2017 NHL Draft, one pick before Heiskanen and Cale Makar went back-to-back. Every franchise has draft regrets, but the Flyers 2017 choice always seems to sting a bit more after picks No. 3 through No. 5 turned into stars.
Patrick dealt with head and concussion-related issues throughout his career, and for me the “what-if?” of it all with Patrick reminds me of what happened with Stephen Johns.
Johns was supposed to be Heiskanen’s partner, the bruising, strong-skating righty alongside the Finnish phenom. During NHL training camp in 2018, Johns and Heiskanen were supposed to play together in camp, that was Jim Montgomery’s plan, and it never materialized as post-traumatic headaches cost Johns the entire season and eventually his NHL career.
The Stars have been searching for someone to play that role with Heiskanen since, Johns was perfect for the role. His health just never game him that chance.
While I don’t personally know Patrick like I know Johns, it’s the same situation. Patrick, whether he should have been drafted at No. 2 overall or not, was amongst the best hockey players in the world.
When healthy, he showed flashes that made him a top prospect. The “what-if?” of everything can be painful and sad when you think about the real-life impacts of head injuries.
While his fellow 2017 draftee and potential defensive partner had their careers claimed by head injuries, Heiskanen dealt with similar things himself that delayed the start of his NHL career.
Remember, during the 2017-18 season, Heiskanen didn’t partake in Dallas Stars training camp as an 18-year-old because he was recovering from a concussion. For Heiskanen, it only cost him a potential season with Ken Hitchcock — which honestly might have been for the better — while for Johns and Patrick it cost much more.
I realize there’s no major insight or scientific thesis to this piece. But I think sometimes it’s worth taking the time to think about head injuries, and the real cost beyond a game, even if it’s just a short moment on Wednesday morning.
We’ll be back with some more hockey insight tomorrow.