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Will Nic Petan ever get full-time work with the Winnipeg Jets, who already boast one of the NHL’s deepest forward groups and several promising youngsters in the fold?
His agent sounds like he has some serious doubts.
"I think they’re one of the more exciting teams to watch in the NHL, and there’s a little bit of envy because I would like Nic to be part of that," Joe Oliver of KO Sports Inc. said during a recent phone interview. "But at this point he seems to be on the outside looking in.
"He’s champing at the bit to say, ‘Hey, listen. I want to be part of it.’ But that may not be possible just because of the number of players in front of him."
Petan, now 23 and a pending restricted free agent, has yet to demonstrate he can be an impactful player at the NHL level. He’s played three seasons with the organization, split between the big club and its American Hockey League affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.
He’s a proven point-a-game performer in the AHL, but hasn’t produced with any measure of consistency in a Jets jersey.
Petan played just 15 games with the Jets during the 2017-18 season. He dressed for six games in October after making the team out of training camp, and another nine during a call-up in February. His offensive output was meager at best — just a pair of goals and no helpers from a guy expected to be a playmaker.
In 95 career NHL contests, he’s fired five goals and added 16 assists. His ice-time has been mainly limited to fourth-line minutes, although he has received some looks on the second power-play unit.
Winnipeg is armed with a full complement of bona fide NHL forwards, including the world-class top line of Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler. The dynamic young duo of Patrik Laine and Nic Ehlers needs a centre if the team is forced to wave goodbye to unrestricted free agent Paul Stastny, and the likely replacement candidates are Bryan Little or Jack Roslovic.
Or, does that create the opening Petan has been longing to fill?
Oliver believes his client has the skill, pedigree and work ethic to be a assume that type of role.
"I think he’s a top-six player in the NHL," he said.
"In my travels, you certainly talk to people in this hockey business. From a scouting perspective, and guys just out at rinks watching games, I would say the general consensus is that it’s been very complimentary of him as a player — him as a skill guy and a thinker and being able to make things happen on the ice."
The Jets also have the firmly established Mathieu Perreault, Joel Armia, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp and Brandon Tanev up front.
Kristian Vesalainen, a tall, skilled winger picked in the first round of the ’17 draft in Chicago, figures prominently on the horizon. He had a solid season in the Finnish League, registering 22 goals and 43 points in 49 games, and should play in Winnipeg this fall, either with the Jets or Moose.
Pushing for a spot with the Jets will be Brendan Lemieux and Mason Appleton, although the roster crunch negates the need to rush anyone’s development within the organization.
All that said, would Petan, an intriguing prospect when the Jets plucked him in the second round (43rd overall) of the 2013 NHL draft, be best served by a change of scenery?
"I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t say he’s best served playing somewhere else. If (the Jets) are looking to make changes or moves and open up a spot... I still think it is a great place for him to play," Oliver said. "But if they’re pretty secure on the group that’s there, and moving forward, then that log-jam becomes maybe insurmountable, where you maybe can’t get into that lineup to show people what he can do.
"I think it’s really important to say — and I’ve said this to Chevy (Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff) on multiple occasions — Nic loves it there. He loves the city, he loves the team. The environment is great. I think he would want to be part of the Jets for the long term, 100 per cent. The only underlying thing there would be, is there an opportunity for him to play there? And right now, I can tell you I’m not sure that there is."
Petan had just registered 46 goals and 120 points with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, flashing great vision, puck-handling and play-making skills. He’d play two more years and post snazzy numbers in junior, highlighted by two stints with Canada’s world junior team and a gold medal in 2015.
He is nearing the end of his three-year entry-level contract, and is an RFA on July 1. The Jets will make him a qualifying offer by June 25, unless he’s traded elsewhere before then.
Oliver made it clear no such demand to move his client has been made.
"Nic is a very humble player. He believes he’s a good player, but he’s very humble and goes out there and does his work. I think he’s a very good teammate as well and I would think the group in Winnipeg and the Moose would probably say the same thing. He won’t ever say anything that will cause any negative spin. He just wants to play. He wants an opportunity," Oliver said.
"If somehow, some way, this roster that they have in Winnipeg opens up where there’s a chance, well, then that would be his first choice. But if that doesn’t change, then everybody, including I would say Winnipeg and us, would have to look at what those other opportunities are."
Oliver said he expects to discuss his client’s predicament with Cheveldayoff prior to the 2018 NHL Draft, set for June 22-23 in Dallas.
"We will have conversations… discussing where Nic may or may not fit in, in that organization. But not in a ‘Hey, trade me right now’ type of scenario."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
Updated on Sunday, June 10, 2018 at 11:01 PM CDT: Edited
June 11, 2018 at 2:33 PM: Updates headline.