The last three years haven’t been easy for Nic Petan.
After cracking the Jets roster straight out of Junior hockey and scoring his first NHL goal in his first NHL game, things haven’t gone exactly as planned for the former WHL-phenom, who is back with the Manitoba Moose for the third time in as many years.
“I think it’s always nice to get back to your game and do the stuff you were [drafted] for,” said Petan when asked about his latest re-assignment.
Petan’s game, a highly-skilled and exciting type that Jets fans had become familiar with over the years, hasn’t found it’s stride at the NHL level. Through bits and pieces of the last three seasons, the Delta B.C native has suited up for 86 games with the Jets, recording a mere three goals and 16 assists in the process–a far-cry from the numbers he put up during his Junior career. During his Major Junior career, Petan tied for the WHL’s scoring lead in 2013, along with serving as an integral role for Team Canada’s World Junior team in 2014 and 2015.
And when he made the transition to the pro game, things started out on the right foot, with Petan cracking the Jets 2015-2016 opening night roster, and scoring his first NHL goal in his big-league debut.
But, over time, producing offensively at the NHL level proved to be difficult for Petan. He started to slip down the Jets depth chart, with stints on the team’s fourth line, in the press-box, and every-so-often–with the Moose.
Petan’s NHL TOI/GP
At the start of his 2017-2018 campaign, one in which the Jets were all-in on winning, rather than the development of their young prospects, Petan quickly became the odd-man out.
Rotating as a third line winger and a fourth line centre, it was evident the 22-year-old forward needed some fine tuning to his game and for the third time in as many years, Petan went across the hallway to the Manitoba Moose, in hopes of re-discovering his game.
And to say the least, Petan has benefited from his current tenure with the Moose.
Throwback to Nic Petan's snipe from last years World Juniors pic.twitter.com/yjZIb1SYWA
— Hockey Ways™ (@HockeyWays_) January 3, 2016
Petan, who is scoring at a point-per-game pace through 24 games, has found some consistency in his game while skating primarily on the wing, not as a centre, for the Moose.
“Yeah, I actually like (playing on the wing),” said Petan. “I’m getting used to it now and it makes me move my feet a bit more.”
Shifting to the wing didn’t seem to be much of a problem to Petan, who has handled the re-assignmnet in stride, according to his head coach.
“His attitude is perfect,” said Moose head coach Pascal Vincent. “The way he shows up, he wants to see his game on the video, he wants to improve, he’s talking to the assistant coaches quite a bit—I think he’s been a big help for our team.”
A big help, indeed, as Petan has helped form one of the league’s most dominant lines alongside Jack Roslovic and Mason Appleton.
This Roslovic, Petan and Appleton trio is just ridiculous. What they can do with the puck is sick. Appleton's 11th goal of season gives Moose a 2-0 lead. Appleton now has 30 points (11G 19A). He is now tied for first in AHL rookie scoring and sixth in the league.
— Dave Minuk (@ICdave) December 23, 2017
Scoring goals, no-matter the level, is fun. And for a player like Petan, it’s a nice change of scenery for a player that struggled to get in the NHL lineup, and produce on the scoreboard. With the Moose, Petan has done just that, on a winning team and in the midst of it all–regained his mojo.
“Confidence is a big thing,” said Vincent.
“In order to create that confidence you need to be put out there and then to play [big] minutes and to be put in situations where you’re not necessarily comfortable, and to prove to yourself that—‘I can take that faceoff, I can be on the ice when the game is tied 1-1 and theirs two minutes left in the game.”
With the Jets, Petan wasn’t getting the chances to prove that he could take on a bigger role. Sure, you could make the point that he wasn’t making good on the chances he was getting. Or, you could side with the knee-jerk counterpoint, and insist that his usage, and the linemates he was playing with, were holding him back from succeeding.
Playing at a lower level, while getting time with the puck and all, can seem counterproductive for a young prospect trying to improve their game. But time with the puck, even at a lower level, is better than very little time with the puck at the highest level.
“You know what, I think he’s improving—a lot,” said Vincent.