At number nine, Winnipeg Jets already have their second 2013 draft selection. Having two within a team's top ten from the most recent draft is usually either a sign of poor depth or an exceptional draft. In this case, it is both.
Nicolas Petan is a centre with off the charts IQ. Craig Button mentioned him as one of the most underrated prospects, saying his skill levels were elite. While small in stature, Petan has learned how to uses his size as an asset instead of trying to work against it and he still has time to grow in strength.
Previous Rank: NR
David vs Goliath: David "pwnz"
Some speak of Nicolas Petan's 2012-13 season as if his offensive explosion came from no where, which is only partially true. In Bantam at 14 years of age, Nic was over two points a game player. The next season Petan was over a point per a game in Major Midget and made a case to be pulled up for seven games in the Portland Winterhawks playoff run. Then at 16 Petan scored 35 points while bouncing between the 2nd and 3rd line as a rookie in the WHL. He was the fifth highest scoring WHL player under 17 years old (Joshua Morrisey was 3rd) and 3rd highest in points per game played. Petan also played for gold medal winning Team Canada Pacific U17 and scored 3 goals in five games.
The next year Nic Petan played on one of the top lines in the CHL. Together, Brenden Leipsic, Nicolas Petan and Ty Rattie were first, second and third in the entire WHL and top 3 in points per game played. Petan's points per game was also second highest of any draft eligible player, falling only behind Jonathan Drouin. Petan won WHL Most Assists, WHL Most Points, and WHL Best +/-, and in addition was nominated to WHL West First All-Star Team. Petan also scored two points on Team Canada's U18 gold medal winning squad at Hlinka.
All this and Nicolas Petan has only just been drafted.
Myth Busting the Doubters
There has always been two negatives brought up with Petan: product of his line mates and size.
Petan being on a line with the other top three scorers in the WHL has made many suspicious of how much of his production is his own. The fact that Petan only scored 35 points the season prior adds to this.
Kent Wilson over at Flames Nation has already taken a deeper look into Petan's production. He notes that Petan contributed to 37.0% of the Winterhawks points. In addition, 67.5% of Petan's points were scored at even strength. Both of these numbers are signs of a player not simply riding on the success of their linemates. They are larger than what is the norm for "flash in the pan" type busts.
Can he translate that success to the NHL?
Size does matter in the NHL, as strength to win board battles and not be pushed off the puck is important; however, size is not everything. There have been other players who have gotten by with being smaller skilled players, but they tend to be the exception and not the rule.
Scott Reynolds at Copper and Blue looked at draft comparisons of Nicolas Petan. He used production and projected draft spot as the main variables. Unfortunately for Petan, there was not that many comparisons and the comparables were not very promising, bringing up one prospect, one NHL player and three busts. There is some reasoning to this, as it is rare for players to be selected so late who have succeed offensively as Nic did.
All three of the busts were players who had fell to late first - early second slots due to scouts having large question marks on how much of their production was actually owned by the player. All three ended up falling hard afterwards, as many scouts predicted, likely due to inflated percentages regressing. We already noted that Petan was likely the driver of a large portion of his offensive production, so this isn't a large concern.
So what of that one NHL player? Why did he fall near the same area in the draft if it wasn't for "flash in the pan" fears?
Much like Nicolas Petan, Tyler Ennis scared many scouts due to being small, measuring around 5'8". Not only is their size comparable and falling in the draft due to it, but they both scored goals at eerily similar rates. It looks as though Buffalo has found a gem, as Ennis has scored consistently in 5v5 situations at a rate comparable to Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler. If the Jets can get a top line player in the second round, this could be a great steal where a lot of other teams could regret choosing AHL lifers over Nicolas.
The Future of the Little Engine that Could
When you have high end skill and hockey IQ, the sky is the limit. This is why it is usually smart asset management to use early-to-middle picks on skilled players such as Petan instead of "safe" picks with third line ceilings (like Lukas Sutter). The reasoning for this is you can trade for a proven third liner for similar value assets. The funny fact is these "safe" picks often don't end up very safe.
Back to Petan, he will likely be developing in the WHL for one or two more seasons. He has the positional awareness to play in a NHL setting already but needs to develop his physical attributes, which will likely come in time much like Scheifele. Do not be alarmed if his point production dips a bit, as it is a difficult feat to have back-to-back-to-back 120+ point seasons. As long as Nic continues to improve his game and work his way in becoming a more complete player, the Jets management should be happy.
There are still questions on the prospect, but don't be surprised if one day Nicolas Petan is fighting Mark Scheifele for a spot in the top line. It could and may happen.