Nic Petan (Photo by Ken Andersen/NHLPA via Getty Images)
Nic Petan has been a top scorer at every level he's played, but will likely start this season as a fourth-liner with the Winnipeg Jets. But there is definitely a method to this madness.
WINNIPEG – There was a time not long ago when players on the fourth line were specialists. And their specialty, more often than not, was to go out and punch people in the face. But the Winnipeg Jets might just have a different kind of fourth-line specialist this season in rookie Nic Petan.
Actually, Petan has two recent trends in hockey working in his favor as he tries to earn a spot on the Jets by bypassing the minors. The first is that there is a place in the game now for players who are 5-foot-9 as long as they have some skill, which Petan has in abundance. The second is the advent of 3-on-3 overtime, which begins this season.
he way Jets coach Paul Maurice sees it, teams tax the players at the top end of their depth charts late in close games. And if that game ends in a tie, those same guys might not have enough to get a team over the hump in an overtime period that promises to be fast and frenetic. Enter a player like Petan, who would be fresh and have the ability to decide a game with one slick play.
That’s one of the reasons why Maurice would not be reticent to have a player as offensively inclined as Petan is on his fourth line this season. Petan’s offensive gifts have been on full display over the past four seasons in the Western League and in last year’s World Junior Championship when he, Sam Reinhart and Connor McDavid led Canada to the gold medal with 11 points each. His performance was punctuated by a hat trick in Canada’s 5-1 win over Slovakia in the semifinal.
Another reason why Petan could be in the Jets lineup is that until this season, the Jets farm team was almost 1,300 miles away in St. John’s, Nfld. Starting this season, the Manitoba Moose will be playing in the MTS Centre, the same building the Jets use. So if the Jets ever want Petan to go down to get more ice time, all they have to do is send him to a different dressing room down the hall instead of halfway across the country.
“I am more open this year than any other in the past to having a skilled player play and not worry if his minutes are not over 10,” Maurice said, “and I would have never said that before. Nic’s skill set is pretty refined and he’s a very smart player. The question is, ‘How much better is he going to get offensively?’ He’ll get more experienced and he’ll get bigger, stronger, faster, which will allow him to use those skills more.”
Petan is no different than any other young player. He’d rather play eight minutes a game making $700,000 in the NHL than playing 25 minutes a game and making one-tenth of that in the minors. “Obviously you want to be here,” Petan said while standing in the Jets dressing room. “It doesn’t matter about the minutes. You’re playing in the NHL. I just want to be a part of the group and whatever minutes you get you get, so you just have to take advantage of that.”
Much has been made of the abundance of talented youth in the Jets organization. It seems every person in town is aware that THN picked the Jets to win the Stanley Cup in 2019 based on the strength of their group of prospects and young players. Nikolaj Ehlers seems to be a lock to start the season in Winnipeg and after two years in the minors, J.C. Lipon is making a push for regular work at the NHL level. The Jets could start the season with a fourth line made up of former University of Michigan standout Andrew Copp at center – Copp has been very good in training camp – with Petan and Chris Thorburn on the wings.
“(Petan) has come into the league at a fantastic time because 10 years ago we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” Maurice said. “In the past, you’d be saying, ‘He’s not a big, physical guy, he doesn’t fit on the fourth line and he’s going to go and play in the American League.’ ”