The hockey world moves fast. As little transactions there are compared to the other North American sports leagues, in the NHL, there are often players forgotten and the depth of a team can just be shuffled around in the off-season.
As the months of summer die down, the trades and signings that happened either last summer of in the middle of the previous season could easily be forgotten and create a “oh yeah, he’s there now” moment.
On trade deadline day last season, the Leafs made one single trade that sent pending free agent Par Lindholm to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for post-prospect forward Nic Petan.
Petan was considered a player with some potential when he was drafted in the second-round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but since then he’s just waded in between the Jets and their AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.
Now at the age of 24 and just 113 NHL games of experience, he’s on a Toronto roster that will have plenty of forwards fighting for very few spots on what should be a highly-offensive team in the 2019-20 regular season. There is a sense that GM Kyle Dubas and co. had a plan this off-season — to raise the floor of talent and not leave any spots on the roster that had an adequate backup waiting to take advantage of any absence.
Signing forwards like Pontus Aberg, Kenny Agostino, and Garrett Wilson, give the Leafs enough offensive depth to easily substitute a missing part in the grand scheme of things.
This leaves Petan in an awkward — but familiar — situation. He is the youngest out of that group of free agents, but what the Leafs are hoping for now isn’t some young potential for future success, they need good players in the present. Whether Petan is that, is a complicated situation.
He had just five games to make an impression on Toronto and in that short time he scored a single goal and played some diminutive minutes on the fourth line. Going +30/-27 in on-ice shot attempts is much too little of a sample size to really construct some narrative to his underlying metrics, so it’s really just that single goal in the 44 or so minutes Petan played for the Leafs.
Comparing that to the other forwards competing for the few roster spots, he has a massive disadvantage. Although Aberg split his time last year in between the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild, he played a total of 59 games and about 861 minutes in said games, scoring 12 goals and 25 points.
Clearly the more productive forward and not that different in age, or potential to rise to maybe a consistent contributor — Petan will be 24 to start the season, while Aberg will be 26. It’s not crazy to think that Petan certainly has his work cutout for him and might be facing yet another year without a defined roster spot.
He’s no stranger to that issue, having been put on waivers earlier last season by the Jets and passing through unclaimed. But he’s still in the running to make a difference for this hockey club.
If it all comes down to a roster crunch and he is left without a spot in the lineup in October, maybe the best thing for him to do is ask for a trade. He’s been only part of teams that have immense forward depth and leave no room for him to see any reasonable promotion up the lineup unless injuries occur.
Similar to Josh Leivo last year, Petan could be a young forward that just needs a full-time placement and consistent minutes to really get his game to an everyday NHL player. A team that is desperate for a player even somewhat resembling a good forward — one in Eastern Ontario comes to mind — could see Petan as a buy-low player that could grow into a productive offensive player.
He’s still only 24-years-old and has over 100 NHL games experience to draw on, so he could have a future in the top league, but potentially not with the Leafs.