Published June 25, 2024

Colts’ Patterson unwrapped strong second half to move up in NHL draft

Colts’ Patterson unwrapped strong second half to move up in NHL draft
Riley Patterson, Barrie Colts - OHL Images

The best present Riley Patterson received last Christmas when he headed home to Burlington for the holiday break was the gift of time.

Time for the Barrie Colts rookie to take in what had been a slower adjustment to the OHL in the first half of the season, sit back, catch his breath, and refocus.

What followed has helped him find his place among the prospects for this weekend’s NHL Entry Draft in Las Vegas.

Patterson found his confidence and, in turn, found his game. He finished with a league-high 29 rookie goals, and his 62 points in 68 games were second only to Hamilton Bulldogs’ forward Jake O’Brien (64 points) in rookie scoring.

Spurred on by his placement on a line with fellow NHL draft prospect Cole Beaudoin and veteran Tai York, Patterson moved up the NHL Central Scouting draft rankings, climbing from 161st at the mid-term to 61st among North American skaters in April’s final rankings.

“It was a bit of a slower start and a bit more time to adjust, kind of feel the OHL life and everything that comes with it,” said the 18-year-old, who was named the Canadian Junior Hockey League Player of the Year with the North York Rangers in 2022-23. The second half really helped me, and I just had a new sense of confidence.

“I think the Christmas break helped. I really focused on the mental side of the game. That kind of helped me figure some things out in that area and when I came back, I had a new sense of motivation and confidence too.”

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After recording eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points before the holiday season break, Patterson returned to take a big step in his game.

He scored twice in a 4-3 shootout win over the Sudbury Wolves in the first game back on December 28, 2023 and went on to record 21 goals and 43 points in 39 games, more than doubling his output.   

“I just continued to prove I belong in the OHL, and I can be a top player as well,” said the six-foot, 194-pound forward, whose OHL rights were acquired before the season from the Flint Firebirds for a slew of picks. “It definitely helped working on the mental side of my game and I think also more opportunity came in our lineup.

“You get that opportunity; you make the most of it. You compete every practice and every game, earn those opportunities in the lineup. Having that opportunity and carrying it with me and competing all the time, I think that really helped me to (play) the way I did.”

Colts general manager and head coach Marty Williamson credits Patterson with his ability to take his game to another level. Frustrated, the rookie “worked himself out of it.”

He put in the time doing a “ton” of video work with associate coach Phillip Barski and assistant coach Dylan Smoskowitz, improving on things like his stick positioning.

“In his defence, he’d always been a centreman and I moved him over to the wing probably after the first month,” said Williamson. “I put him on wing, and it’s a new position for him. He had to attack the game differently than what he was used to as a centreman. I think he had a really good year for us.

“I know he finished second in rookie scoring, but when you take the slow start and the strong finish it just shows what he could have done and what I think he’ll do next year for us having that consistent year from start to finish, and going to a pro camp and those types of things are just great things for him.”

The NHL draft kicks off with the opening round on Friday night at the Sphere in Las Vegas at 7 p.m. and then rounds two through seven beginning at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday.

Patterson has looked forward to this weekend for a long time.

“It’s a special time,” said Patterson, who went out and bought a new suit for the big day. “It’s a lot of hard work put in over the years. It’s a fun event to go to, especially being in Vegas. Especially this year is going to be really cool just to experience. It’s kind of a one-time kind of opportunity and I’m just excited for the day to come.

“It’ll be good to see all the hard work I put in over the years hopefully pay off here.”

One move that did pay off for Patterson was his decision to pass on the NCAA school route and instead agree to sign a deal with Barrie after the trade.

“I obviously can’t thank Barrie enough for the opportunity and everything they’ve done for me since that trade last summer,” he said. “They’ve done great for me, and it was great for me coming to the OHL, one of the best development leagues in the world. To go there and have that opportunity and in that first year perform the best that you can, it was awesome.”

Known for his scoring abilities, Patterson looked to show NHL scouts he was more of a complete player. Yeah, he can score, but there’s more to his game.

“Growing up, I was always kind of a goal scorer. I just loved to score goals anyway I could, but as I’ve gotten older, and watched a lot more hockey through video, you see plays develop before they happen and I think that comes with a bit of my playmaking and a bit of my hockey IQ,” said Patterson. “I think that’s a bit of a strong point of my game.”

What’s interesting for Williamson is that he’s found a lot of NHL teams are split on Patterson that way. Some see him as a scorer while others see what the Colts coach does as a playmaker as well.

“We had a stretch of games at the end of January after the trade deadline and we tied them up in the final minute and went on to win them and he was part of all those plays,” said the Colts head coach. “It wasn’t him scoring, it was him making that backdoor pass or making a play.

“He’s got very good playmaking ability to go along with scoring and he was pretty balanced with his points.”

Patterson certainly found a home on the right side of Beaudoin and alongside York. The two NHL prospects pushed each other and supported one another knowing scouts were watching closely.

On many nights, the trio was Barrie’s top unit.

“We’re best buds off the ice,” said Patterson. “We came together as a line in the second half, and (Beaudoin and I) were pumped to play with each other and just push each other every night. We were going through the same process and we both wanted each other to do the best we can and playing on the same line we can do that together.

“It was nice seeing both of us have success with York as well. He really helped us complete the line and make us shine out there.”

Patterson said there have been a few people who have him arrive where he is today, but none more so than his family.

“It’s usually a typical answer, but it’s my family,” he said. “My mom and dad have been there my whole life obviously and I always go back to when coronavirus was a thing and COVID-19 was kind of taking over and they were driving me to my practices and couldn’t even come in to watch. They had to stay in the parking lot for hours on end.

“They were willing to drive 40 minutes to an hour just to get me to practice on a weekday night when they are obviously going to make sacrifices.”

Patterson also points to older brother, Carter, who plays NCAA Division 1 hockey in Buffalo with Canisius University, as an inspiration.

“I’ve just kind of followed in his footsteps ever since I was a kid,” he said. “I always wanted to be like him.”

ICE CHIPS: Colts captain Beau Jelsma, who will be an overager next season and has been passed in previous drafts, is expected to be selected in the later rounds. . . Forward Bode Stewart and goalie Sam Hillebrandt could be selected as well, though both will definitely be on the radar next season if they’re passed over in Las Vegas. “He’s going to be one of those guys that an (NHL team) could have taken in the sixth or seventh round and (next year) they got to use a third or fourth to get him,” said Williamson of Stewart. Hillebrandt is the same. “I think (goalie coach Dave Belitski has done a really good job with him. I really think we have one of the top goalies in the league and it’s one of the boxes we can check,” the Colts coach said of the goaltender.

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