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Is this the season Nic Petan earns a full-time gig with the Winnipeg Jets?
The 23-year-old from Delta, B.C., boasts an impressive “previous employment” section on his hockey resume: high-scoring centre in the Western Hockey League; gold medallist with Team Canada at the 2015 world junior hockey championship; and point-a-game performer in the American Hockey League.
Yet, he hasn’t found a permanent spot on the NHL club’s roster, five years after the Jets selected him in the second round (43rd overall) of the 2013 NHL draft.
Gone from the landscape are centres Paul Stastny and Matt Hendricks and wingers Joel Armia and Shawn Matthias, meaning at least a couple of job openings up front are available.
Petan knows there’s a golden opportunity ahead, and it’s entirely up to him to seize it.
“I think that’s what’s really exciting coming into camp,” he said Monday after a 60-minute skate at the Iceplex, sharing the ice with several of his old Manitoba Moose teammates, including forwards Jack Roslovic, Brendan Lemieux and Mason Appleton, goalie Eric Comrie and defenceman Sami Niku and Cam Schilling. Immediately after, all Jets regulars except Tyler Myers and Dustin Byfuglien skated on an adjacent rink.
“I’m confident in myself that I can make a roster spot and that’s what I plan to do. I’m going to come in and play like I finished off last season, playing confident and comfortable and, hopefully, I’ll make that spot.”
Petan, a restricted free agent on July 1, accepted a one-year, two-way deal that pays him US$874,125 if he’s playing in the NHL and $70,000 if he clears waivers on his way down to the Moose.
In three pro seasons, Petan has dressed for 95 games with Winnipeg and has five goals and 21 points, while playing the bulk of his time on the fourth line and spot duty on the team’s second power-play unit.
There’s no room for him as a bottom-line checker — Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp and Brandon Tanev are virtual locks to retain that responsibility. It was a fruitless exercise in the past, playing that role at 5-9, 180 pounds while skating alongside guys such as Matthias, Marko Dano and Chris Thorburn.
Petan’s always been an offensive contributor, a guy with vision and nifty hands. To crack the roster he’ll need to finally prove to head coach Paul Maurice and his staff that he can not only post points but do so without costing his squad defensively.
Slotting in on a third line with any combination of Mathieu Perreault, Bryan Little or Jack Roslovic seems most suitable, although a battle to fill the vacancy left by centre Paul Stastny on the second line with slick scoring wingers Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers will also brew.
“Obviously, I’m pushing for a top-nine spot. That’s where I want to be and that’s my goal,” Petan said. “I worked a lot on finishing pucks this summer, just getting better around the net. I’ve been pretty unlucky, missing the net here, a post there.
“I’m dialed in, trying to get my habits down, shooting in better positions and not trying to go for the very corner of the net. I feel more comfortable with it and now have to transition it to a game.”
Petan began the 2017-18 season with the big club, going pointless in six games before being sent down to Manitoba. He was called up for nine NHL contests in February and contributed a pair of goals, but was returned to the AHL squad.
The demotion wasn’t as tough on the psyche as people might think, he said.
“I didn’t take it too much as a negative. I just went down and worked hard, showed them I could play my game in the AHL, play down there to advance my ability,” Petan said. “My job now is to not go back down there ever and solidify a spot in the NHL.”
Petan said he wants to make his mark with the organization that drafted him and didn’t request a move elsewhere, reiterating what his agent, Joe Oliver, told the Free Press early in the summer.
“Obviously, as a young guy you want to play, right? That’s the main thing, you don’t want to sit around. The goal is not to be in the AHL either, so my job is to work the best I can. Watching (the Jets) last year trying to go for the (Stanley) Cup, I want to be a part of that group, I want to provide help to this team to get to the next step and try and win that Cup,” he said.
Petan finished with 15 goals and 52 points in exactly 52 games under Moose coach Pascal Vincent, missing two weeks with concussion-like symptoms but returning for the playoffs.
Living in downtown Vancouver during the off-season, Petan spent a lot of time at the beach over the summer but was never far from the rink, skating three or four times a week with a group of NHLers.
But he’s excited to be back in Winnipeg competing for employment against guys he’s gone to war with in the past.
“Everyone’s friends around here, but you know when you get on the ice, everyone’s competing for a job, and it doesn’t matter if you’re best friends or you don’t know the guy, you’re battling for a job, and that’s what makes it fun,” he said.
Assistant sports editor
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