For a draft-and-develop franchise like the Winnipeg Jets, Nic Petan should have been a triumph.
A diminutive but ultra-skilled forward who fell to the second round of the draft in 2013, Petan was scooped up alertly by the Jets and proceeded to dominate the junior circuit for the next two years. His junior career included two stints on Canada’s World Junior team and a gold medal in 2015.
The beginning of Nic Petan’s pro career wasn’t as offensively prolific as his 358 points in 252 WHL games might have suggested, but it’s still not every player who puts up 32 points in their first 47 AHL contests fresh out of junior.
Last year, Petan took a big step forward statistically, not on the scoresheet but because he played 54 games in the NHL and just nine in the AHL, meaning he spent most of the year with the big club.
His usage in that time, however, was poor at best, and his luck, as outlined in the pilot’s logbook, may have been even worse. His poor luck will change with time, but as for his usage, fixing that is on the Jets.
It’s high time the Jets gave Nic Petan a proper chance. And no, surrounding him with stone-handed possession black holes is not a proper chance.
Nic Petan's career performance with or without one of Thorburn/Tanev is one of the more hilarious splits I've ever seen.
— Garret Hohl (@GarretHohl) September 29, 2017
Nic Petan is a playmaker and a puck-distributor. He needs some to, you know, distribute the puck to. When he has that, he’s at his best. It’s no coincidence he put up more than half of his points last year on the power play.
Petan is a skilled player, but his usage as a fourth liner has hurt him badly. His underlying numbers last year were directly tied to those of his linemates, and as such, they were quite bad. Some fans even became frustrated with Petan’s lack of effectiveness.
Practice What You Preach
The Jets have said, loudly and often, that they are a draft-and-develop organization. It’s a good philosophy, really the only one for a small market, and if followed appropriately should lead to success. There are signs that it’s starting to.
Leaving Nic Petan out in the cold, however, is not a good example of drafting and developing. Forcing him to play with players who are not compatible with him (as both advanced stats and the eye test would indicate) is not a good example either.
The Jets can’t afford to take any players for granted, nor can they let any roster spot go to waste. It’s true that the team is much improved this year, and no one denies their offensive prowess, but their stated goal is to make the playoffs, and that’s no sure thing. They’ll need a big year from every possible position to make that happen.
This would explain why some fans were so upset when the Jets signed Matt Hendricks, or when Brandon Tanev was re-signed. Every roster spot is critical, and the Jets can’t afford to take their newfound offensive firepower for granted.
Paul Maurice’s track record with using young players has left something to be desired. The Jets shift to youth has been blamed for their rise in goals against over the past two seasons, but a deeper look reveals it was rarely the youth that was the issue.
The purpose of this post is not to bash Hendricks, or Tanev, or Maurice for that matter. It’s to point out that the Jets have a skilled player who’s been badly used in his brief pro tenure, and that it’s time for the Jets to let the skilled youngster be at his best.
And let’s be fair to the Jets coaching staff here: they seem to be doing it at last. Giving Petan a chance to play alongside Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine can’t be viewed as anything less than giving Petan a chance to run with the big dogs. He’s rewarded their faith so far.
Oh, and the Jets have two even strength goals in this preseason and Nic Petan has an assist on both.
— Rob Mahon (@RobMahon19) September 28, 2017
This is how the script should be going. The coaching staff extends some trust to a player with the skill to earn it, and the player shows why the coaches were justified in that choice. No controversy there. Or at least, there shouldn’t be.
But the concern remains and will remain right up until the Jets make their final cuts, assuming Petan makes the team. If Petan is in the press box or stuck on the fourth line on opening night, the concerns will flare up again.
The time has come for the Jets to let Petan do what he does best. He’s ready. His work in the preseason has proved that. He was probably ready last year, but the Jets weren’t ready to use him in a top-nine capacity consistently.
Now, with the playoffs not just a goal but an expectation, and with jobs hanging on that expectation being met, it’s time to let the most talented players get treated that way. It’s time to let Petan do what he’s good at and get the appropriate usage.
It’s a win-win for the Jets. They get the goodwill of a fanbase that has been clamouring to see Petan in a bigger role, and they get a skilled playmaker making their young cadre of snipers all the better.
If the Jets decide to keep doing the same thing they’ve been doing, however, they’ll get the same result.