The Winnipeg Jets’ bottom-six situation — and which players they hold in higher regard — have suddenly become a lot clearer after a roll of the dice.
On Sunday, after the return of forward Nic Petan, who took a personal leave of absence in September after the sudden death of his father Franc, the Jets took a gamble.
To make room for Petan on their 23-man active roster, the Jets placed Marko Dano on waivers. This came as a bit of a surprise as Brendan Lemieux, who made the team after a solid training camp but hasn’t seen any action in the Jets’ first five games, is waiver exempt.
While the Jets were undoubtedly hoping Dano would clear waivers for purposes of assigning him to the Manitoba Moose, it was not to be. On Monday morning, the 23-year-old Dane was claimed by the Colorado Avalanche.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) October 15, 2018
Now, losing a player for nothing — especially to a divisional foe — is never ideal. There will rightly be debate over whether the Jets are guilty of mismanaging their assets, given they could have sent Lemieux down instead. However, there are a number of reasons the Jets came to the decision to roll the dice on losing Dano.
Dano Never Gained a Foothold with Jets
Considered to be one of the key pieces of the 2016 Andrew Ladd trade, Dano never established himself in Winnipeg.
Despite being noted for having high-end offensive skills and versatility, Dano hasn’t been able to use his gifts consistently. His career trajectory has, quite frankly, been both inexplicable and confusing.
The 27th overall pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft had a rip-roaring start to his NHL career with the 2014-15 Columbus Blue Jackets, recording 21 points in his first 35 NHL games. In 2016, after being traded to the Jets, he put up eight points and seemed like he could be part of the Jets’ future. In 2016-17 campaign, he produced 11 points in 38 games and continued to show flashes of promise.
However, in the Jets historic 52-win season, he was mainly a press box denizen, playing in 23 games and recording three points.
With the Jets firing on all cylinders last season, Dano never got back into the lineup consistently. He didn’t see any playoff action, and although he made the 2018-19 roster, he was a healthy scratch for all five games prior to being waived.
In his 82 regular season games with the Jets over parts of three seasons, he struggled to find his niche and never set himself apart as someone indispensable or unique.
Move Shows Jets Value Lemieux and Petan More
Lemieux Is One of a Kind
Conversely, Brendan Lemieux is a completely unique commodity within the Jets’ organization. No one else, neither on the Jets nor the Moose, possesses a similar skill-set.
A feisty, gritty, and ultra-competitive agitator, the 23-year-old is a perfect fit for a bottom-six role in today’s NHL landscape. These days, enforcers and those whose gloves spend more time on the ice than on their hands are generally no longer employed.
Even head coach Paul Maurice has said “being an agitator alone doesn’t keep you in the NHL. It just makes you a pain in the ass for both teams. You’ve got to be able to do something. And he’s got some game.” (from ‘After long journey, Jets’ Lemieux almost home’, The Winnipeg Sun – 26/9/19)
Lemieux can hit, scrap, crash, and bang, no doubt, but he can also chip in offensively — he put up 19 goals and 24 assists with the Manitoba Moose last year.
By waiving Dano, the Jets showed commitment to Lemieux and that they hold his diverse skill-set in high regard.
Petan Has Untapped Potential
Nic Petan has shown he’s a skilled player with great playmaking ability and plenty of offensive intelligence. He’s shone at the AHL level and recorded a career-high 52 points last year with the Moose.
— Manitoba Moose (@ManitobaMoose) January 27, 2018
Like Dano, Petan hasn’t made his mark in the NHL yet. In 95 career big-league games, he’s put up just 21 points. Unlike other prospects, however, he hasn’t been given a particularly fair shake.
Petan has played mainly on checking lines, something he isn’t suited for at just 5-foot-9, 180 pounds. He also hasn’t been given power play time, which is where he really puts his stuff on display. Last year with the Moose, he scored six goals on the man advantage and effectively centered one of their units.
“Petan has a well-deserved reputation as an ace puck mover,” The Hockey Writers’ own Rob Mahon wrote in mid-July. “His saucer pass skills are a sight to behold in person as he threads needles most players wouldn’t dare attempt. He seems a natural fit on the power play.”
It’s obvious the Jets feel Petan, like Lemieux, has a better chance of being an impactful player than Dano. If given a suitable role and minutes to succeed, they could very well unlock the B.C. product’s untapped potential.
Did Jets Make the Right Move?
Questions still abound as to whether Lemieux and Petan will become Jets regulars. Lemieux’s sample size — nine NHL games and five preseason games — is small, and his success hinges on whether he can shake off his penchant for undisciplined play. Petan, meanwhile, missed all of training camp and will need time to get back up to game speed. He also has his doubters — those who feel he’s already had his shot and missed it.
Lemieux and Petan, at the end of the day, are still extra forwards on one of the NHL’s deepest teams. They’ll likely sit in the press box until someone gets injured or the Jets feel the need to tinker with their lineup in the case of struggles.
Dano going to the Avalanche could benefit both parties. The Avalanche get a player who will provide much-needed forward depth, and Dano gets yet another chance for a fresh start with the fourth organization of his career.
After the Jets waived Dano, The Athletic’s Murat Ates tweeted “I absolutely see an NHL player in Marko Dano… His 5-on-5 results to date have been much better than you’d expect from a press box player and much better than a player I expect to see waived.”
Regardless, the Jets have made their priorities clear and must live with the consequences of their decision to move on from Dano. While the reasons they placed him on waivers make sense, whether the choice will come back to bite them is something that will only be revealed with time.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-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.