Selected by the Flyers in the third round (95th overall) of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, center Patrick Sharp has established himself as an NHL regular in just his second professional season.
The former University of Vermont standout spent the majority of the first season and a half of his career with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League. There, he earned a reputation as a smart, fundamental player and a quick learner.
He was recalled to the Flyers for good in late January 2004, after the team was hit with an unusual assortment of injuries to a number of players at the forward positions. To this point, he has recorded 7 points (5 goals, 2 assists), a minus-2 rating and 55 PIMs in 38 games with the big club.
The Thunder Bay, Ontario native is not expected to develop into a big offensive contributor for the Flyers, but could be counted upon in a second or third line role with the team for years to come.
Hockey’s Future met up with Sharp following a recent Flyers game at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.
HF: Patrick, you’ve made the jump to full-time NHLer in just your second pro season. What has been the primary factor in the development of your game?
PS: I’m competing more and being much more tenacious on the puck. Those are things I really worked on over the summer and throughout last year in the minors. I was told at the beginning of the year that I hadn’t improved enough in those areas. So, in the first 35 games with the Phantoms this season these were things I really focused on, and it’s really helped me make the transition to the NHL.
HF: A big deal is often made about the complexity of Ken Hitchcock’s system. Did you find it difficult to adjust at first?
PS: Well, it’s the same system they play with the Phantoms. Hitch has got it throughout the organization. The Philadelphia Phantoms organization really prepares young players well. So, when I was given the chance to step in and play for the Flyers, I was ready to go.
HF: Have any players been particularly active in helping you adjust to the NHL?
PS: A bunch of guys, actually. It’s a great team to be on for a young player. There are a number of great veterans and great forwards here. Mark Recchi has really taken the time to help me out, and guys like John LeClair and Jeremy Roenick are always available to talk to and are willing to give advice. The leadership in the room really helps the younger players.
HF: You and John LeClair are two of the few University of Vermont products in the NHL. Do you have any sort of special bond because of that?
PS: Yeah, a little bit. We get to talking about Vermont quite a bit. I think, as a young player coming out of Vermont, he has always looked after me and taken it upon himself to make sure things are going well for me. While I was with the Phantoms, he always checked in to see how things were going. He’s a great role model for me.
HF: Earlier, you mentioned your time in the AHL. In terms of your development, how important was your stint with the Phantoms?
PS: It was great. I enjoyed the year and a half that I played there and I certainly will use it to my advantage. They have a great coaching staff, led my John Stevens, and really took the time to develop young players like myself, Dennis Seidenberg, Antero Niittymaki, Jim Vandermeer, and a bunch of young guys who have been able to play a certain amount of games in the National Hockey League. I enjoyed playing with the Phantoms, and we’ll see what happens when everyone gets healthy with the Flyers. I may be returning back, and it will be exciting to have a good playoff run.
HF: You played in three games over two brief stints with the Flyers last year. How did those appearances help you prepare for your eventual role with the team this season?
PS: It helped me a lot. Basically, what it did for me was give me the confidence that I could be a National Hockey League player. Growing up, it’s always a dream that seems so far away. So, to get into three games and get a taste for what it’s like, well, it just makes you hungry and makes you want to make it there that much more.
HF: The Flyers have dealt with injuries all season long and the team has been in a constant state of instability. As a young player, how has this affected you?
PS: Injuries happen, so you really have to try not to worry about things like that. The Flyers have one of the top lineups in all of the National Hockey League, and those injuries actually allowed me to play a little bit more and get some more ice time. You never wish injuries on people, but whenever someone goes down it opens up a spot for another player. It gave me the opportunity to step in and gain some more experience.
HF: With just a few games remaining in the regular season, what does the team need to do to prepare for the playoffs?
PS: We just need to refocus and understand that the season is winding down and these last few games are very important as far as the playoff picture is concerned. We saw last year that the home ice advantage is critical and that’s something we’re definitely shooting for. With the team that we have, with the leadership and experience, there’s no doubt that the guys will be refocused and ready to go [the rest of the way].
HF: Do you have any personal goals for yourself as the playoffs approach?
PS: This time of year, everyone is playing hard. I just need to raise my level of play in every game situation. Playoff hockey is right around the corner and you have to be prepared to play your best game every night. That’s what I’m focused on at this point.