When the Toronto Maple Leafs traded fourth-liner forward Par Lindholm to the Winnipeg Jets’ for Nic Petan for at the end of February 2019, the news hardly made a ripple. And, in truth, Petan’s call up today to the Maple Leafs from the Toronto Marlies doesn’t register that high on the scale of interest for most Maple Leafs fans.
However, there’s a bit of backstory to both the trade and the call-up. I’m not certain that I know the entire story; however, this is what I’m piecing together myself and reading.
Why Would Kyle Dubas Want Nic Petan?
During the 2018–19 season, Petan, the 43rd pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and a 24-year-old native of Delta, B.C., scored only two assists in 13 games with the Jets. However, during the 2017-18 season, he had scored 52 points (15 goals, 37 assists) in 52 games with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League. So it’s not like he can’t be a productive player.
In fact, when general manager Dubas talked about Petan at the time of the trade, he noted that Petan was “a player that fits the way we want to play. He’s competitive. He can play center and wing. He’s versatile.”
However, despite Dubas’ positive spin, last season Petan didn’t get much of a chance to show what he could do with the Maple Leafs. There was feeling at the time that general manager Dubas and head coach Mike Babcock had butted philosophies once again with Petan’s signing. Babcock likes big, strong, forwards such as Frederick Gauthier, while Dubas likes speed and skill such as Petan.
And, it’s not like they always agree. The two organizational leaders have different visions of what their team should look like, and often Maple Leafs fans have pointed to the fact that these visions – or philosophies of teambuilding – often conflict.
Perhaps that’s what’s happening these days. However, the elephant in the room is that the Maple Leafs also have a financial problem that forces Dubas to engage a series of creative maneuvers to get returning players such as Zach Hyman back into the lineup when he’s ready to come. The fact is that the team has very little salary cap space left at the top end of the cap limit. Not to worry. Dubas has repeatedly shown that he’s quite up to the task; however, it still remains a task.
Nic Petan’s 2019–20 Body of Work
So far this season, Petan has played with both the Maple Leafs and the Toronto Marlies. Although he was a healthy scratch for eight of the Leafs’ last nine games, he did play four games with the big club and scored one assist. However, in his two games with the Marlies, since he was loaned to them on November 1, he’s done considerably better – scoring two goals and three assists. The 24-year-old was seen as money in the bank – one of the first players the Maple Leafs would call up if they had to deal with injuries in their forward units.
But, Will Petan Actually Play?
Petan’s a good enough player, but he might not be the right kind of good player for the Maple Leafs. Why was he called up? It might be that the Leafs promised him they would trade him to a team where he gets more of a chance to play in a full-time role.
Dubas has proven to be good that way. He did as much with Josh Leivo last season when Leivo was traded to the Vancouver Canucks. Although not everyone is a Dubas’ fan, you have to like that about the Maple Leafs’ general manager. In a tough and sometimes cutthroat business, he’s good to his players.
In fact, one hockey commentator suggests that the whole exercise of calling up Petan might be about letting him show off his skills so that a trade might happen. In addition, his waiver status is complicated. So far this season, he’s been waiver exempt. However, sooner or later, he’ll no longer be so.
Or, perhaps the Maple Leafs want to see what Petan might do with the big club. Maybe, his hot weekend with the Marlies convinced them that he has considerable gas in his tank. Or, perhaps there’s news on Zach Hyman’s return that isn’t necessarily positive – he might not be as ready as earlier reported – and they need an extra forward replacement. Really, we simply don’t know?
Will Petan Play Tonight Against the Los Angeles Kings?
Even with his promotion, Petan might spend most of his time in the press box. However, that seems unlikely because being in the press box will help neither Petan nor the Maple Leafs. Word is that John Tavares (who’s been recovering from a broken finger) will be back in the line-up tonight against the Los Angeles Kings. But then, Tavares was supposed to be in the line-up during the Maple Leafs’ game against the Philadelphia Flyers last Saturday but was pulled on game day. My call is that Petan will play in tonight’s game.
Most people are anxious to see Tavares returned to his regular top-six, position with Mitch Marner and (it looks like) Trevor Moore. Fewer people seem that anxious to see Petan play in the Maple leafs lineup. However, it might be that Petan’s story is more curious and interesting.
We’ll soon see what happens to this young man as he moves forward in his NHL career. I wish him luck.