For what seems like the millionth time, Nic Petan is on the outside looking in with the Winnipeg Jets. Petan has been a victim of the organization’s depth and long list of prospects in years past, and has been just that once again this season.
Petan Buried by Forward Depth in Years Past
The 23-year-old has struggled to make his mark in the NHL and been buried by the Jets’ myriad of top-six options since being selected 43rd overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. In 106 career games, the Delta, B.C. product has tallied 5 goals and 17 assists for 22 points, mostly in bottom-line checking roles.
He suited up for 52 games with Manitoba Moose and 15 for the Jets in 2018, down from 54 in 2016-17. Last year especially, the Jets’ undeniable riches up front — with players such as Mark Schiefele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Bryan Little, Paul Stastny, and Joel Armia at their disposal — quashed any chance Petan had of logging any meaningful minutes. It led The Hockey Writers’ own Rob Mahon to question whether Petan’s time had simply run out in Winnipeg.
Petan has undeniable levels of creativity. The undersized forward put his crafty puck-moving skills, penchant for power play production, and good vision on display in the AHL last year, and was a key contributor to the Moose squad’s 42-26-0-8 record. His 15 goals and 37 assists represented both a point per game clip and a career high.
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) April 21, 2018
As the Jets’ offseason rolled around and Stastny and Armia, Matt Hendricks, and Shawn Matthias all departed, it presented Petan with a renewed chance at success with the Jets.
Petan Keeps Getting Vaulted By Others
However, the trend of other Jets prospects leaping over Petan for steady gigs has continued into this season. He’s played 11 games and has been a healthy scratch for the Jets’ past four.
In 2017-18, it was Kyle Connor, who began his season with the Moose, but quickly became one of the Jets’ most dynamic and dangerous players, producing 31 goals and 26 assists on a terrific line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.
Also in 2017-18, it was Jack Roslovic, who made the most of his post-Christmas recall and evolved into a confident player, who’s hard shot, good hands, and foot speed benefitted the Jets down the stretch last year and have made him a full-timer this year (though he hasn’t gotten enough ice time to truly shine yet, again, caused by the shortage of top-six minutes).
This year, one player keeping Petan in the press box is Brendan Lemieux. The sandpaper forward, a totally unique commodity in the Jets’ organization as someone who can hit, grind, and agitate while still chipping in offensively, has played 14 games to Petan’s 11. Lemieux offense hasn’t materialized yet, with just one garbage goal thus far, but the fact he’s a natural left winger is keeping him in the lineup.
The fact Lemieux is drawing in over Petan despite Lemieux’s penchant for playing an undisciplined, wild-man style — he was suspended after delivering a head shot to Vincent Trocheck in the second of the 2018 NHL Global Series games against the Florida Panthers in Helsinki last month — shows the Jets’ brass feels dressing Lemieux gives them a better chance to win than dressing Petan.
More recently, Mason Appleton has taken a bite out of Petan’s chances. The reigning AHL Rookie of the Year demolished all expectations last year, leading the Moose with 66 points. Appleton was called up in late November and has looked very comfortable so far, receiving more responsibility with each passing game. The 2016 sixth-round pick has found chemistry with Roslovic, his old Moose bosom buddy.
He accumulated plenty of points for Manitoba last season with Roslovic, a defensively responsible, intelligent puck-distributor patrolling the middle of the ice. The reunion with the big club over the weekend — with feisty veteran winger Mathieu Perreault also aboard — was a productive one, with promise of even better days ahead,” the Winnipeg Free Press’ Jason Bell wrote recently (from ‘Rolsovic, Moose buddy Appleton bring buzz to fourth line with Perreault,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 12/3/2018.)
Congratulations to Mason Appleton who made his #NHL debut with the @NHLJets over the weekend collecting his first NHL point with an assist! Appleton had appeared in 95 @TheAHL games with the @ManitobaMoose collecting 84 points over that span! Congrats Mason! #GoJetsGo pic.twitter.com/YEBeKiy9Nj
— PHPA (@thephpa) December 3, 2018
Appleton is a dogged player and a strong puck handler who possesses offensive instincts and a maturity beyond his years. He drew into his fourth straight game on Friday, and his strong play makes it tough to justify taking him out in favour of Petan.
Jets Should Part Ways With Petan
Petan is on a one-year contract and the trend of others surpassing him looks likely to continue into the future. One player likely to do so is Kristian Vesalainen — the 19-year-old began the year with the Jets and played six games before being sent down to the Moose.
In mid-November, he activated a clause in his contract that allowed him to return to Europe and is currently with Jokerit of the KHL. The first-round pick will return to North America next year, a year older but still with three years left on his entry-level contract. The big-bodied Finn is undoubtedly one of the Jets’ top prospects and another player whose stock is rising.
Meanwhile, Petan’s stock diminishes with every game that he’s not on the ice and with every year he fails to make his mark in the NHL. The logical thing for the Jets to do is trade him while he still has some value.
In the summer, we explored some possible trade partners the Jets could target. While those team’s landscapes and needs have all changed since then, the two most likely to desire Petan’s services would be the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars, as they could both use an injection of youth and more depth up the middle.
The Jets likely won’t get much in return — possibly only a mid-round pick — but getting even a pick would be better than placing Petan on waivers or letting him walk at the end of the season and getting nothing.
Petan is not without upside and could find steady work on a team with fewer prospects waiting in the wings and more space up front to give him meaningful minutes. Despite having his chances at permanently cracking the Jets’ lineup briefly revived a number of times, it appears as though his chance of ever being a regular in Winnipeg has finally flatlined for good.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.