In hockey, critics of one's size can be silenced by one factor - production. Winnipeg Jets' prospect Nic Petan has been silencing critics at every level of his career. Standing at 5’9 and weighing in at 173 lbs., Petan's size hasn't stopped him from posting two consecutive 110+ point seasons in the WHL.
Last season, Petan scored 113 points in 63 games. This came one season after posting 120 points in 71 games. Petan has established himself as a star player at the junior level. The numbers suggest he has done about all there is to do at that level, but that doesn't mean he is ready to play pro hockey. Unfortunately, Petan has hit a stage where a lack of options may pause his progression.
Surpassing the 110 point mark is great, but it is not a one-way ticket to the show. As a 19 year old, Petan is not eligible to play for the St. John's IceCaps next season. His two options for next year are to play for the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL or the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. Moving from the WHL to NHL is a huge jump.
There is also the matter of patience in development. The Jets are not a team that will rush their prospects and risk the future in hopes of short term success. They will be patient with Petan and if they think another year of WHL is the right choice for his long term development, they will send him back. This isn't unprecedented either. Petan's former teammate and Nashville Predators' prospect Brendan Leipsic, was returned to the NHL for his 19 year old season after posting 120 points in 2012-13. The Jets have done it too, returning Mark Scheifele to the OHL for his final year of junior hockey. Petan's size will no doubt going to play a role in whether or not he takes the next step but, as was the case with Scheifele, it won't be the only factor.
Petan's puck skills are elite, but his game still has elements that can be refined. He could also stand to add some mass, but even with that Nic Petan will never be a physical force. His body will not allow it. He still has plenty of grit and a high compete level, but as a small player he is going to need to rely on his speed and skill to create space and avoid being crushed by larger players.
None of this will be new challenge though. Petan has had to battle with the size issue throughout his entire hockey career. To date his physical shortcomings have not stopped him from executing on the ice. He may not get there the same way as a bigger player, but he is very clearly no stranger to putting the puck in the net.
Size Isn't Everything
Petan is small and his size presents challenges, but its not like Petan attempting to do the impossible. Claude Giroux, Matt Duchene, Henrik Zetterberg, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby and Pavel Datsyuk are elite NHL players under 6 feet. Meanwhile players like Martin St. Louis, Derek Roy, Mike Cammalleri, Cam Atkinson, Mats Zuccarello, David Desharnais, Brendan Gallagher, Daniel Briere, Tyler Johnson, Brad Marchand and Tyler Ennis are playing big roles at 5'9 or less.
Big or small, Petan can flat out play. His offensive instincts are top flight, as is his two-way awareness, but he remains a work in progress. That isn't to say Petan is a "project", but he is not yet a finished product. This is the norm for 19 year olds, regardless of their size.
Nic Petan is a promising prospect who has continued to turn the heads of Jets fans. He may not be as challenged as he should be next year, but playing in the WHL will allow him to continue to develop physically. The gap between the WHL and the NHL is huge. There will be no shame if Nic Petan can't make the leap at 19. Most don't. Hopefully, in a couple of years fans will get to see him suit up with the Jets. If he does it before then, that's cream. Watching him light up the WHL and the World Juniors in the interim is hardly a booby prize.