Nic Petan: Can a Prospect be too “NHL-Ready”?


When Claude Giroux came out of the Quebec Major Junior League in 2008, it was clear to all that he was a high-end talent. Not only was he coming off three straight 100-point seasons, and a strong showing with Canada’s gold medal winning World Junior Championship squad, but he utterly dominated the QMJHL playoffs, leading the league in scoring with 51 points in just 19 games. Based on that resume, it would have been incredibly easy for the Flyers to put the 20-year-oldin the NHL in the fall of 2008, and yet, they resisted the urge – partly because Giroux was just 5’11, and around 170 lbs. Instead, they sent him to the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms, where Giroux spent just 33 games scoring 34 points.

Claude Giroux has since become one of the top forwards in the NHL, and he is one of the league’s leading scorers year after year. In fact, did you know that he’s the NHL’s top scorer since the fall of 2010? While it’s impossible to say what kind of player he would have become had he skipped the AHL, it’s certainly fair to say that spending half a season in the minors didn’t hurt his development.

Following a striking change in organizational philosophy, today’s Toronto Maple Leafs are doing things in a very similar waySpeaking about the organization’s “timeline” for player development, Assistant GM Kyle Dubas said the following:

“…we want the players to master the AHL level and the minor-league level and not bring them up after one good weekend,” he said. “They have to show us they can do all of the things. …Once our guys show they can master [the AHL] consistently, then we’ll have that conversation. That’s up to the players. Never been a hard and fast rule that no one is coming up this year.”

The key phrase there is “master the AHL”; while you could debate what “master” means, I interpret that to mean that a young player should stay in the minors until they prove that they’re too good for that level.

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In an incredibly curious move from this off-season, the Winnipeg Jets opted not to re-sign veteran Lee Stempniak, despite the fact that Stempniak was keenly interested in staying. While it’s doubtful  that anyone considered Stempniak to be part of the Jets’ core moving forward, he was a consistent 15-goal scorer with modest contract demands. In a worst-case scenario, he was good, affordable depth for the organization – a player who could play up and down the lineup, from (at least) the 2nd line, to the 4th line. And while passive observers have the benefit of hindsight, it’s worth noting that he has fit in incredibly well in New Jersey, scoring 12 points in 16 games, while making just $850,000 on a one-year contract. (That would put him third in scoring on the Jets, while putting him 12th in salary among forwards). Most importantly, the decision to let Stempniak go allowed Nic Petan – a 20-year-old rookie who is at most 5’9, 170 lbs. – to make the NHL without playing a single game with the Moose.

Let’s look at the possible reasons why the Jets held a spot open for a youngster, rather than re-signing Stempniak, or a similar player:

(1) Petan might be better

While you can’t analyze players in a vacuum, with 12 points in 16 games this season, and 10 points in 18 games last season with the Jets in a third line role, it’s hard to argue that Petan has has made the Jets better than Stempniak would have, given that he has just 2 points through 14 games. Plus, if he was a key part of the team, he wouldn’t have been scratched 4 times this year.

(2) Petan would be cheaper

Petan will likely will be a bit cheaper than Stempniak this season, but not significantly. While Petan does have a lower base salary than Stempniak, if he were to hit all his bonuses (the clauses of which are unknown), his cap number will actually be slightly higher than Stempniak’s $850,000. Regardless, if Petan ends up making ~$100,000 less, that’s just .14% of the NHL’s $71.4M salary cap.

(3) The Jets already have plenty of organizational depth

Given the Moose’s struggles so far, this is a pretty easy one to address. The Moose currently sit second-last in the AHL, and they don’t have a single forward on the roster who is in the top-100 in league scoring. While that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some good players down there, it’s pretty clear that there’s no one currently banging down the door to get to the NHL.

(4) Petan will develop faster in the NHL than in the AHL

While there’s no iron-clad argument against this, a whole lot of anecdotal evidence would suggest that this isn’t the case. The “plug-and-play” approach – taking undeniably skilled, but very young players, and placing them directly in the NHL – failed miserably for years in places like Long Island in the late 90’s, Florida in the early 2000’s, Columbus in the mid-2000’s, and most recently, Edmonton.  Meanwhile, the “draft and develop” model followed by teams like Tampa Bay, Nashville, and most famously, Detroit, has worked pretty nicely for several years now. Some of that is detailed here, and here. 

If Petan were in the AHL, he’d be playing around 20 minutes per night, quarterbacking the powerplay, likely generating tons of scoring chances, and helping make his young teammates better. And if the Jets ran into injury troubles, or if he simply lit up the league – or “mastered the AHL” – they could call him up at any time. Instead, Petan is averaging 9:22 of ice-time per game, and playing primarily with Andrew Copp and Chris Thorburn – two gritty, hard-working players who don’t have a future as top-6 forwards. Not only is he not being put in a position to succeed – he’d be better complemented by a finisher with some size, like Drew Stafford – outside of the 1:23 per game he averages on the powerplay, he’s not really being given a chance at all.

Scale of the Problem

Taking a step back, is this situation the end of the world? Absolutely not. Nic Petan is a very skilled, intelligent player, and while his development might be better served in the AHL, he can still become a very productive player by following his current path, and a potential replacement for the style and offence of Mathieu Perreault (should he wish to depart when his contract expires at the end of 2017). But the logic behind this series of decisions is a concern, and for Jets fans, it’s something to keep an eye on.

The Future is Bright – Top-20 Jets Prospects

Danish sensation, Nik Ehlers

Nik Ehlers – The Jets’ 1st round pick in 2014


Craig Button – one of the more of the more reputable evaluators of young hockey talent – has said on numerous occasions that the Jets’ prospect pool is the best in the NHL. And bBetween the high-end skill, future #1 goaltenders, and depth at various position, I’m inclined to agree with him. So who are the most promising among them? And where might they fit in down the road? Here’s an update on the Jets crop of young talent.

High-end Talent

Ehlers, Morrissey, Petan

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Evander’s Exodus: Kane leaves Winnipeg in Blockbuster Deal

New York Islanders v Winnipeg JetsAfter years of inactivity on the trade market, Kevin Cheveldayoff pulled off the biggest deal the NHL has seen in years. After a week of rampant speculation following “track suit-gate”, Winnipeg dealt Evander Kane – the most controversial figure in Jets 2.0 history. But perhaps a bigger surprise was that long-time Jets-Thrashers d-man, Zach Bogosian, was also included in the deal.

Too often, players get evaluated based on expectations. particularly when it comes to salary and draft position. Kane and Bogosian were each top-5 draft picks who came to Atlanta at the tender age of 18. Each showed enough glimpses of promise in the foregoing years to ‘earn’ large, long-term contracts from the club. And while each player made significant contributions in their time with the franchise, it’s probably fair to say that they failed to live up to the draft-day hype.

However, expectations are a two-way street, because when it comes to trades, NHL players are sort of like stocks; regardless of how the company’s actually performing, if the expectations in the market for that company are good, then the stock price will continue to rise. Similarly, if expectations around the league for a particular player are still high, then that player will still be a significant asset for that club. Given their size, speed, youth, and draft pedigree, Kane and Bogosian were, and are valuable commodities. With that in mind, let’s see how this trade shakes down, and whether the Jets deserve praise or criticism for this move. Continue reading

Ending the Crosby-Toews Debate

crosby+toewsI’ve heard many people suggest that that Jonathan Toews is a better hockey player than Sidney Crosby. Not more talented, perhaps, but they usually start with the premise of “if you could pick one player to build a team around”, “yatta-yatta-yatta…”, it has to be Toews. Continue reading

2014 Jets Training Camp

L-R: Kevin Cheveldayoff, Craig Heisinger, Mark Hillier, Nikolaj Ehlers, Marcel Comeau, Larry Simmons, Paul Maurice, Mark Chipman
L-R: Kevin Cheveldayoff, Craig Heisinger, Mark Hillier, Nikolaj Ehlers, Marcel Comeau, Larry Simmons, Paul Maurice, Mark Chipman

The Winnipeg Jets kick off training camp tomorrow – Thursday, September 18. While it will be exciting to see how the potential young stars stack up against the vets – namely, Nik Ehlers and Josh Morrissey – the battle for roster spots may be less compelling. Continue reading

I Disagree, Mr. Lawless

1st overall pick in 1993, Alexandre Daigle
1st overall pick in 1993, Alexandre Daigle


Gary Lawless recently wrote an article in the Free Press named “Youth Must be Served”. As you might infer from the title, the idea is that the Jets should put some young players in their lineup this fall, because the young guns offer more than some of the veterans who currently fill the bottom of the roster. (Ok, let’s see, young guys, lots of talent, fun to watch – sounds plausible so far). He further justifies the point by saying that the team isn’t very good anyway, so “why not bring in some youth and let them learn on the job”. (Yeah, I guess so…you gotta learn somewhere, right?) Let me tell you why I think it’s a bad idea. Actually, let me show you why I think it’s the worst idea.

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Wings' rookie sensation, Gustav Nyquist
Wings’ rookie sensation, Gustav Nyquist


There are two types of organizations – those who rush their players, and those who don’t. Ken Holland and his group in Detroit are ‘the good guys’. Gustav Nyquist just finished his rookie season with Detroit, where he scored 28 goals in only 57 games. In fact, he was on pace for 40 goals in – let me say it again – his rookie season, had he played in all 82. Interestingly, he was already 24 years old when the season started, and was playing with the poise and maturity that one might expect from a player who had been clawing to get to the NHL for a number of years.

I’m a fervent believer in the Detroit Red Wings model of development – the one in which you actually give players time to develop, until they clearly demonstrate that they’re too good for their previous level, whether it be junior, college, Europe, or the AHL. For the Wings, that usual entails leaving them in junior till age 20 (21 if coming from College or Europe), and then a one or two year stint in the AHL. Most Red Wings don’t make the squad full-time before they’re at least 21, and the last time a teenager played a full season in Detroit was in 1991, when Keith Primeau made the team as a 19-year-old. Nick Lidstrom – almost universally recognized as one of the top-5 defencemen of all-time – didn’t play for Detroit until he was 21. Henrik Zetterberg came over from Sweden at 22, while Pavel Datsyuk didn’t leave Russia till 23. The Red Wings’ current stud defenceman – Nik Kronwall – didn’t make the roster as a full-time NHL’er till he was 24. In the past 20 years, Detroit has absolutely set the standard for player development in the NHL. No other team lets their prospects “ferment” in the minor leagues for as long as Detroit, and perhaps there’s a method to the madness. Continue reading

2014 NHL Free Agency Wrap-Up

Tampa GM Steve Yzerman and his club were one of the big wingers in Free Agency

Tampa GM Steve Yzerman and his club were one of the big winners in Free Agency

The NHL’s Free Agency period is a time where mistakes happen. Teams get overzealous, hoping that a big catch will turn their team’s fortunes. Over the years, the poster child for bad free agent signings has been the New York Rangers, who have shelled out big-money, long-term deals to players like Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Wade Redden, and Brad Richards. In the end, Gomez was traded, Drury retired before the contract finished, and the other two were bought out.  Continue reading

Winnipeg Jets’ 2014 NHL Draft

Nikolaj Ehlers - Jets'  1st round pick in 2014

Nikolaj Ehlers – The Jets’
1st round pick in 2014

Nikolaj Ehlers (F) – 1st round, 9th overall

After Jacob Trouba, this could be the best draft pick the Jets have ever made. He’s instantly the most skilled player in the entire organization, and draws comparisons to Patrick Kane based on his build, skating, and offensive arsenal. Like Kane, he’s normal in height – nearly 6′ – but very slim at just over 160 lbs; his skating is quick and elusive, and like Kane, he’s just as good a finisher as he is a play-maker. Given more height and weight, he might have been in the running for the first overall pick. But instead the Jets were able to nab him at 9, and add a potential 1st line winger who will beautifully complement Mark Scheifele down the road. No one should expect Ehlers to play in the NHL this year or next – he needs a few years to fill out – but here’s hoping that he gets a taste of the AHL playoffs at the end of his junior season, just like Josh Morrissey did this past year.

Check out his sweet stats here

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