Since coming back into the NHL fold from Atlanta, the Winnpeg Jets have slowly built up an extremely promising group of prospects that have made their mark on the league in various ways. Patrik Laine is obviously one of the best young talents in the league and Mark Scheifele has quietly become one of the league’s elite centres at just 24 years old.
Then there are those who did not meet their potential in Winnipeg or have only hinted at what their full potential is. Alex Burmistrov showed promise then quickly fell off after returning from the KHL. Right now, Nic Petan is trying to find his footing in the Jets lineup on a regular basis, but he hasn’t exactly been helped by his coach’s choices. In 80 NHL games, Petan has 19 points, including just three goals over his two seasons with the Jets.
Looking into who his most common linemates were, it’s not hard to see why Petan has struggled to create offence for the Jets. His most common linemate at even strength last season was the offensive blackhole known as Chris Thorburn. Out of Petan’s 5v5 minutes, 32% of them were played alongside Thorburn. The next closest forward to that mark is Blake Wheeler, but we’ll get to that in one moment.
Looking at the above chart, two major things stick out right away, that Brandon Tanev and Nic Petan in a small sample together were awful, and that Thorburn was an anchor on Petan. It’s not like Petan is devoid of scoring talent, coming right out of the CHL and into the AHL he posted 32 points in 47 games on a Manitoba Moose team that finished third worst in the league. It’s clear though that he cannot be expected to shoulder the load of carrying a possession blackhole at just 22 years old, he doesn’t have the experience at the NHL level to pull that off.
This is a problem that appears likely to continue as well, with the Jets opting to bring back Tanev and while Thorburn was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights, Matt Hendricks was brought in to fill a similar role. Hendricks doesn’t fix anything that was wrong with the Jets roster last year and likely exacerbates their biggest issue. The team took too many penalties last year, Hendricks isn’t going to fix that and isn’t going to bolster a fourth line that struggled in possession. In fact, out of all the players in Edmonton last year he was the worst in relative possession on the Oilers a team that made that playoffs and finished second in their division. Asking Petan to be effective alongside that, or worse yet, to be a healthy scratch so he can play isn’t going to improve the team in any foreseeable way.
It’s not all bad though, Petan has shown glimpses of being able to play up in the lineup and generate moderate success in his short career thus far. In a very small sample size (97 minutes) the combination of Petan and Marko Dano ended up being the second best combination on the year for the young forward. Even if they don’t plan on playing either up higher in the lineup, having skill on your fourth line is becoming the new standard in the NHL. In Montreal currently a pair of former 20 goal scorers in Paul Byron and Andrew Shaw have highlighted a new look fourth line under Claude Julien. It’s not a perfect solution, but it gives more talented players the ice time they need to develop, and can help boost scoring for a team that didn’t get much from their bottom six.
Even more telling is that when paired with Blake Wheeler, both Petan and Wheeler saw a large boost in their possession numbers.
When they were paired together the duo not only generated a large amount of shots for but they did extremely well at limiting them against in their time together. When separated from Petan, Wheeler sees a massive drop in his shot suppression, going from allowing less than 40% of chances against, to allowing over 50%.
Now it’s hard to imagine Paul Maurice changing up things that drastically in this offseason, but by shuffling things slightly he may be able to generate some more offence from his forwards. In the case of injury especially he should take note of the shot generating ability of Petan and Wheeler, it doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture, but it’s clear there’s some major positives to be had out of them being on a line together.
Nic Petan is still extremely young, on his entry level contract, and can still be molded into a quality NHL player in Winnipeg. His two years with the Jets haven’t been up to expectations that were set when he was drafted early in the second round in 2013, but he hasn’t been given a fair hand in regards to that. It’s not that Maurice has to move Heaven and Earth to get more out of the young forward, he just has to give his skilled players a chance to show off their talent. Anchoring him with Thorburn or Hendricks isn’t going to do that, giving him an extended look with a Dano or Wheeler is likely the best path forward.
If they don’t see him as an offensive tool, then maybe Kevin Cheveldayoff might be better off trying to move him for assets he can use in the future. It’s still early in his career, but as it stands right now the Winnipeg Jets are wasting the potential of a young asset. It’s an easy remedy to fix, they just have to realize it before it’s too late.