It’s easy to understand why the Flyers have been hyped up so much heading into the shortened NHL season.
They’re in a division that, while the top teams are on the same level, is winnable given their talent. Carter Hart is a preseason Vezina Trophy finalist favorite. Their run last season, cut short by the Islanders in the pandemic bubble, gave their fanbase some hope for a strong future.
Enter in Nolan Patrick, active for the first time since April 2, 2019, and Oskar Lindblom in his first regular season game since December 7, 2019, after playing twice in the postseason.
That’s 403 and 652 days without playing in a game, respectively.
Their returns helped spark the Flyers offense in a 6-3 win over the Penguins to open their season, but their comebacks are more remarkable than the on-ice contributions.
“Just to have those guys in the room, and their personalities, and what they bring to our team, it definitely got our team up this game,” Kevin Hayes said to media after the game. “Those two guys are elite players in this league, and tonight they showed it.”
Lindblom was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma days after his last regular season contest with the Flyers, and recently announced he is cancer-free. He scored his first goal since November 30, 2019 on Wednesday night, marking his official return to the Flyers.
Patrick missed all of last year dealing with a migraine disorder, and tallied for the first time since 2019 with his goal at the end of the first period.
Both now healthy, they elected to play in the pandemic season. As a cancer survivor, Lindblom has more health risks associated with a return. That has to be a concern that’s centered as teams try to keep positive cases down playing outside of a bubble.
On the ice, there’s no doubt he makes the Flyers better. He was in the midst of an breakout campaign before his diagnosis, so we don’t know what his highest ceiling could even be.
“He’s always responsible, he’s always there, so it’s just good to see him out there doing his thing as well,” Travis Konecny said of Lindblom to media after Wednesday’s game. “He’s just one of those guys who makes the guys around him better.”
Patrick’s journey back to hockey has spanned almost two years. Dealing with migraines that kept him unable to participate, the 2017 second overall pick had a strong training camp, and scrimmage.
It’s always different when it’s the real thing. Wednesday night against the Penguins was high energy, and Patrick not only kept pace, but produced.
“He hasn’t played at all in, it must be since April,” said Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault. “So he hasn’t played in quite some time. But I see him walking around with a jump in his step and a smile on his face. There’s no doubt that he’s happy to be back. Every day that he’s around our team and that he’s on the ice and with his teammates, he gets better. Where that will lead, only time can tell.”
There’s room to improve, of course. His line with James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek was on the ice for two goals against. Full cohesiveness doesn’t happen overnight after not playing for so long.
The success in both of their returns is more than just serving as entertainment value or cogs in the hockey machine, but personal triumphs after dealing with severe health situations. It’s always good to see recoveries and success afterwards.
For the Flyers, having more depth when heavy teams like the Bruins and Capitals lurk ahead in the division is another bonus. Joel Farabee with one of his better showings — four points — on opening night also aids them in that department.
The Flyers are always a lightning rod. The expectations are high and low and the same time and there might as well be a huge “who’s to say” sign on them when making projections.
A healthy, full roster puts them in a place they could succeed, though, and if Wednesday was any indication, Lindblom and Patrick will be a part of that.
Said Vigneault, “My one disappointment is that Oskar played his first game in Philadelphia since December 2019 and he didn’t get a chance to play it in front of Flyers fans giving him the great cheer and love that he deserved from coming back and battling cancer.”
Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.