With his parents – Rosanna, the more nervous of the two – among the 15,296 on hand, the birthday boy did everything but score, finishing with five shots and one post in a career high 19 minutes and 40 seconds of ice time.
A night he, like the young players on call, can build on.
With an injury to Mathieu Perreault, the 21-year-old was promoted to the top line alongside Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, and he did not disappoint. Simply put: He was one of the best players on the ice in a 2-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
There was bound to be an adjustment. At 21, a first-year pro, Petan was averaging about 10 minutes per game in a third- or fourth-line role for the first 13 games of his career. But after being put on assignment, he found his touch with the Manitoba Moose, recording nine goals and 32 points in 47 games before being recalled on emergency conditions late last week.
Since then, he’s done nothing but impress.
“He’s capable of making some plays,” offered Head Coach Paul Maurice. “It’s good to see some confidence to take it in the hole and not keep looking off for (Mark Scheifele) or Blake (Wheeler), which is what a lot of young players do.
“What I really like about his game, and not just tonight, but in all three (games), is that he’s eliminated the plays that he was trying to make early in the year that are really high-risk, low-payoff kind of plays.”
It’s all part of becoming a pro.
You see, Petan was an offensive dynamo in junior, twice recording more than a hundred points in the regular season, and was the brink of becoming the 2013 playoff MVP if not for fellow Winterhawk Ty Rattie’s incredible, record-breaking goal-scoring performance for that championship squad.
International hardware? He’s got that, too; the infamous photo of his father, Franc, trekking down the stairs at Air Canada, flinging his headwear over the glass to celebrate his then-19 year-old son’s hat trick goal in a big win over Slovakia.
Days later, Nic was World Junior gold medalist.
“It was unfortunate [that I didn’t score] but I thought I played a solid game,” said Petan, humble as always in evaluating his own performance.
“Obviously you want to put those ones in, but I’ve got to get over it. Sometimes it happens like that.”
Petan took over in the middle frame, orchestrating an odd-man opportunity with great speed down the right side before pulling it to his backhand, through the feet of a defender and into the blue paint, but the goalie came up with it, diving desperately to protect the open side.
Seconds later, he hit the post, and on his very next turn over the boards – on a power play, no less – he fired a shot high from the top of the circle, eyeing the glove-side corner that was previously uncovered; missing the mark, but just barely.
Scoreless through two, Adam Lowry put the Jets on top at the two-and-a-half minute mark of the third period, Mark Scheifele iced with empty-netter in the final minute, and Ondrej Pavelec was good when he had to be, stopping 28 in all for his first shutout of the season.
The Canucks have now been shut out in three straight consecutive games, allowing 99 shots on goal in their last two outings. They have but three goals during a five-game losing streak, and are now just one point up on the Edmonton Oilers for last in the Pacific Division.
“It’s a great feeling knowing that we can win,” Petan said. “Just scoring a few goals, the bench rises and everyone’s happy.”
A win’s a win, but the Canucks – Maurice noted – are equally depleted. Late in the year, with both teams out of the playoff race, these results have to be taken with a grain of salt.
But make no mistake, games like this matter, especially for the countless number of youngsters – Petan included – looking to make their mark.
“There are two levels of offence on your team,” Maurice said. “(Nikolaj) Ehlers, Scheifele and Wheeler is your elite level of offence, but there’s another line there was offensive ability, just not at that level. That’s where he’s got to work himself into to get a chance, to get some power play time, and then where he develops after that, who knows. You can’t take all of these young players and say that for them to eventually be good, they’ve got to play with Scheifele and Wheeler. It can’t work like that, right? He’s got to do exactly what he’s done. He’s used his time in the American League well and he’s made improvements on the most important thing that he needed to – that quickness.”
The Jets outshot the Canucks 32-19 in the opening 40 minutes (49-28 overall), recording 25 (twenty-five!) of the game’s 31 chances to that point. Petan had five – a game high – along with six individual attempts, giving him a positive possession rating of +7.
He finished +12 with seven chances, helping the Jets control 63.9 percent of the even-strength shot attempts.
“The decision-making, you almost let them be more riskier as they get older,” Maurice said. “Once they get the basics down of what they need to do with the puck, the reads of high traffic areas like that, to truly excel and get to the elite level, they’re going to have to play with high-end guys.”
That’s the goal. And tonight was a big step forward for No. 19 in the blue.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com