It has now been over a calendar year since Nic Petan was acquired by the Leafs in a trade that saw them move Par Lindholm to the Jets, and the former has yet to fully realize his potential. He is nearly halfway through a two-year deal and has played in 21 NHL games with the Blue and White in that span.
So is Petan this quality AHL scorer who makes infrequent appearances in the NHL, or is he a player that could provide secondary scoring in the big leagues? Given that he was a late addition to the Leafs Phase 3 roster, it would appear that even the team doesn’t yet know what to make of Petan’s place in the organization.
By The Numbers
Petan split this past season between the Leafs and Marlies, with two different outcomes coming from both teams.
On the big club, he registered just three assists in 16 games as he was limited to primarily fourth line duties and was a frequent healthy scratch. By the time Sheldon Keefe was promoted to head coach, his appearances were more sporadic before being sent to the Marlies for good by December.
Speaking of the Marlies, it was a different story for him playing for the AHL squad as he posted 10 goals, 21 assists, and 31 points in just 25 contests (1.24 PPG). Had he played the full 76-game season, he would have been on pace to finish with 30 goals, 64 assists, and 94 (!) points, which would have smashed his previous career highs in the AHL.
Where Petan really shines is in his underlying metrics as they are pretty impressive at 5v5.
To put into perspective how impressive these numbers are, he ranked no lower than seventh on the Leafs in all but one of the categories above (HDCF%). The sample size may be small, but it doesn’t discredit that there is some value in Petan. He wasn’t ranked third in our Top Leafs Outside the NHL series for no reason.
What We’ve Seen So Far
I’m going to focus on his offensive play with both the Leafs and Marlies, looking at how he generates scoring chances for himself and his teammates.
Nick Petan gets his 2nd of the game with a terrific '1 timer tip in' from a great pass from Sandin to give the Marlies a 3-2 lead. pic.twitter.com/LzXwr7IPog
— Rod Blanchard (@RodBlanchard) January 12, 2020
I like his ability to sneak by the defence, which allowed him to gain a better position near the crease. By the time the Stars defenders were in pursuit, Petan was able to get the shot off and score.
What a wonderful goal this would have been for Nic Petan. pic.twitter.com/Lj3GoepP7l
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) October 22, 2019
Petan has a good entry into the zone and does a nifty deke to cut to the middle of the ice and generate a quality scoring chance. Nick is right in saying this would have been pretty if Petan had scored.
1. Nice little pass from Muzzin to Holl.
2. Petan wins a battle then finds Kapanen and we have ourselves a one goal game! pic.twitter.com/tjv6Es9pjF
— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) November 29, 2019
Being able to set up a scoring chance off the forecheck is important in today’s NHL, which Petan demonstrated here. Just being in a position to battle for possession wouldn’t be possible if he didn’t have the speed to reach his man.
Jason Spezza 🚨
Great play from Petan. 5-1. pic.twitter.com/orPcnY2kHC
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) November 17, 2019
Picking up the loose puck in neutral ice, he fools the defender by cutting to the right and spinning to send the puck towards a streaking Jason Spezza. The latter scored, but it wouldn’t have happened if not for the play Petan made entering the zone.
He can also get shots off from the point, make crisp passes in tight quarters, flipping the puck to his teammates, and has a solid wrist shot that can go bar down. If Petan is to have sustained success in the NHL, it will likely be in part because of his playmaking abilities.
How will he do against Columbus?
Like Kenny Agostino, Petan has been primarily skating alongside the reserve players throughout training camp thus far. This can only mean that he will likely be on the outside looking in once the play-in series begins. Although depending on what the roster size is for each team, there is a chance he can make the cut as a spare forward. If his services are called upon, then the odds suggest he slots on the fourth line.
He has yet to register a point in three career games against the Blue Jackets, so perhaps there is an underlying motivation to snap the drought? I am obviously grasping at straws here, but it’s evident that Petan has little history against Columbus to this point.
Going back to the question I posed at the beginning of this piece, Nic Petan’s career outlook will largely depend on what he does when the opportunity presents itself. While the underlying metrics suggest he can be an effective forward at the NHL level, this has yet to translate into consistent production offensively. As a result, he has either sat in the press box or been with the Marlies since being acquired in February 2019. And as he recently turned 25, Petan is getting dangerously close to reaching the “he is what he is” territory of his career.
That doesn’t mean he has zero chances of making a name for himself in the NHL. At time of writing, he hasn’t been cut from training camp which may indicate he is in consideration as an extra forward. Should he be given a chance to play, I imagine Petan can be useful in the bottom-six.
The chart used is from hockeyviz.com.