When Nolan Patrick's family comes together for a cookout on the back patio overlooking the fairways of the St. Charles Country Club in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and stories of athletic accomplishment start to fly, one-upmanship is a tough game to win.
Nolan's father, Stephen, was the 20th overall pick in the NHL draft in 1980. His paternal uncle, James, was the ninth overall pick in 1981. His maternal uncle, Rich Chernomaz, was drafted 26th overall in 1981. His late paternal grandfather, Steve, starred for the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers. His mom, Carrie, played volleyball for Team Canada. His two sisters, Madison and Aimee, also play competitive hockey.
"Talk about coming from a blue-chip, blue-blood family…" longtime NHL scout Paul Henry says.
It's a tough crowd to impress.
But 18-year-old Nolan is about to have something to hang over all of them.
The Patrick family is already preparing for Nolan to start letting them know he was drafted highest.
"He can give us some ribbing about that," Stephen says. "We won't mind too much."
Not that being picked highest overall in the family is enough to satisfy Patrick, a 6'3", 198-pound center. Uncle Rich played 51 NHL games, Dad played 250, and Uncle James played 1,280. Patrick isn't about to take anything for granted. He knows the first task after being drafted will be just to make it to the NHL.
He has one year of eligibility remaining at the junior level but hopes to jump to the NHL this fall.
"I think I'm ready, but of course I have to go out and prove it on the ice," says Patrick, who turns 19 in September. "To be drafted into the NHL is just a big honor in itself. Wherever I go, whoever picks me, I'll be excited."
I don't see any vulnerability or weakness in his game. He's so big, so strong, with great hockey sense, and he's totally unselfish. I think he'll be an A-plus, franchise player."
— NHL scout Paul Henry on Nolan Patrick
There is some question left as to whether Patrick will be the top pick, though even if he slides, he almost certainly would still top Uncle James as the highest-picked family member.
The main concern with Patrick going into the draft is his health. Injuries have hampered his career at times, including a sports hernia ailment that limited him to just 33 games with his Canadian junior team, the Brandon Wheat Kings, last season and kept him out of the World Junior Championship for Canada. Some wonder if he will become injury-prone as a pro.
The Hockey News' Ryan Kennedy recently ran an article headlined "Why Nolan Patrick Is No Longer the No. 1 Draft Prospect," citing the injuries and a slight downtick in Patrick's scoring as reasons for naming Swiss-born Nico Hischier his new top prospect. Kennedy quoted an unnamed NHL exec saying: "Patrick has been a bit underwhelming. Hischier has gone in the other direction."
Many have also condemned the 2017 draft class as a whole, regarding it as "uninspiring," with no "generational" players available.
Patrick, who scored 41 goals and 102 points in 72 games two seasons ago before the dip to 20 and 46 in 33 games last season, seems a bit ticked off by such skepticism, especially about his durability. He says he is ready to prove to the hockey world that if a team takes him first overall, the faith won't go unrewarded.
"People can say what they want about me. Ninety-nine percent of the people who are talking don't even know what happened with my [hernia] injury and how it went down," Patrick says. "People can talk and have a right to their opinion, but for me, it is what it is. Before [last season], I think I played 110 games or something like that, didn't miss a game. I'm 100 percent healthy now."
There are plenty of hockey people, like Henry, who haven't lost faith in Patrick as a worthy top choice.
"He's got size, speed and skill up the middle, and that's just hard to find in one package."
— NHL general manager on Nolan Patrick
"I don't see any vulnerability or weakness in his game," Henry says. "He's so big, so strong, with great hockey sense, and he's totally unselfish. I think he'll be an A-plus, franchise player."
Patrick remains ahead of Hischier as the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's No. 1-ranked North American skater, and one NHL general manager, who asked to remain anonymous, says he still expects Patrick to go first because "he's got size, speed and skill up the middle, and that's just hard to find in one package."
Off the ice, Patrick's passion is golf. Growing up with fairways as a backyard, he gravitated to the game and says he usually shoots in the high 70s or low 80s. His offseason routine so far after waking up has been get a workout in the gym, go on the ice for a couple of hours of hockey skills work and then hit the links for a round.
When he was laid up with the hernia injury, hockey and golf were out, so Patrick developed another obsession: paddle ball (the game with the little red ball at the end of a rubber band attached to plywood). It was a contraption popular with kids from older generations, before video games and smartphones.
"A friend of mine brought me kind of a care package when I was recovering, and there was one in it," he says. "I grinded on that thing pretty hard for a while, seeing how long I could keep hitting it without missing."
Patrick is partial to the TV show Dexter, along with sashimi sushi. With several big lakes near Winnipeg, he also is an avid fisherman, with some huge pickerel among his most prized catches.
Asked to describe his own game, Patrick says he takes as much pride in his defense as his offense and, like his favorite player and fellow Winnipegger Jonathan Toews, wants to be known as a winner.
"If I have great stats or something and we still lose, it's no fun," says Patrick, who captained Brandon to a Memorial Cup appearance in 2016. "I think I'm a team-first kind of guy. Winning is what you're out there for."
As for what it takes to be a pro, Patrick never had to look any further than to his father and two uncles as examples.
"They've all been huge for me as far as advice and things like that," he says. "Obviously, I'm lucky in that regard. They played in the NHL, so they know what it takes, and they have helped me tremendously. My mom gets a lot of credit, too."
Says Stephen, who today runs the successful Winnipeg real estate company his father started in 1955: "We never pushed the game on him. My wife and I were always really aware not to do that, and so was my brother. You don't want to make your kid's life about your own life, or continuing any kind of legacy or whatever."
That doesn't mean Dad won't get a major thrill from seeing his son on another first-round NHL stage when that night happens June 23.
"I'm sure my brother and I, we'll both have some flashbacks of our own experiences going in the first round, the pure excitement of it," Stephen says. "It's something that only happens once in a lifetime. You never forget it, that's for sure."
Being drafted in the first round may only happen once in a person's own lifetime. But in the Patrick family, it seems to be a tradition.