Flames first round targets 2013: Nicolas Petan


Nic Petan
– pic via Arian Durst


No draft eligible player scored more points in the CHL this year than the diminuitive Nicolas Petan. A member of Seth Jones’ dominant Portland Winterhawks and a linemate of Sven Baertschi’s ex-running mate Ty Rattie, Petan collected 120 points in 71 games to lead the WHL in scoring. Of course, Jonathan Drouin and a few others would have garnerd more points than Petan had they played as many games (Drouin managed 105 points in just 49 games, for instance), but Nic’s output is nevertheless highly impressive.

A 14-goal, 35-point player the year previous, Petan’s inability to jump beyond the late first round on most draft boards likely has as much to do with his sudden, unexpected point explosion as it does with his less than ideal size (5’9", 166 pounds). Guys who come out of nowhere to post giant point spikes on very good teams are rightly viewed with skepticism by scouts and such – there’s the non-trivial chance that a performance like that could be an aberration and not a true representation of a player’s abilities.

The Scouting Reports

That said, the descriptions of Petan tend to be overwhelmingly positive. Corey Pronman ranks Petan as the 32nd best prospect available and he says the little guy boasts a full suite of offensive tools:

He is a highly skilled individual, bleeding puck possession tools. He can make high level plays with the puck, be it in terms of controlling it, outmaneuvering opponents, or making top-end passes. He is a very creative, instinctive offensive player, showing a knack for turning normal plays into scoring chances. He has the pace to play in tight spaces. Petan is certainly a small player, but that helps him with shiftiness, as he is difficult to check in open ice. He possesses a nice first step, and he can move at an above-average level. He has a quality shot, and despite his size, he shows decent defensive ability. His diminutive stature (between 5’8" and 5’9") is his only glaring weakness, and overcoming it will be a challenge. Scouts have described him as feisty in terms of the effort and battle he displays.

Despite glowing reports on his skill and compete level and some of the best numbers in the Canadian Hockey League, Petan isn’t getting much attention as a high-end prospect.

As mentioned, he typically shows up around 25 or later on most draft lists. ISS has him at 26th while central scouting has him at 33rd amongst NA skaters. In fact, Petan didn’t even make NHLNumbers top-30 consensus ranks since so many scouting services had him somewhere in the second round. 

Of course, skepticism with high scoring pip squeaks isn’t necessarily unwarranted. For instance, recent high scoring but tiny WHL graduates Jordan Weal and Brandon Kozun have gone on to be competent AHLers so far in their careers, but certainly don’t project to be future stars at the NHL level now that they have left the WHL. It’s tough to become a scorer in the show – it’s that much tougher if you’re small and not a freak of nature like Martin St. Louis or Theoren Fleury.

The other reason small guys get less love in scouting circles is they can’t be projected to fill any role other than scoring. So while some of the "bigger bodies" may be able to fill a variety of niches down the road (grinder, checker, two-way forward, etc), anyone standing 5’9" or less has to be a better than average top-6 producer to make the leap and stick. 

The Numbers

Because of his incredible counting stats, Petan had the second highest NHLE amongst draft eligible skaters this year with 41.6. Only Drouin was ahead of him (51).

Of course, the other reason Petan hasn’t leapt to the top of the draft pile is because the Portland Winterhawks were such a juggernaut this season. They finished with a record of 57-12-1-2 and a goal differential of +165. No team in the WHL scored more goals than the Winterhawks this year (334), in fact scoring 6 or more goals in 23 of their regular season games. In fact, only one other club scored more than 300 (Kelowna Rockets).

So there’s a 99.9% chance Petan’s output was augmented by the quality of his club this year. To determine the effect of the ‘Hawks high end scoring, as well as his even strength and powerplay splits, I went through Petan’s regular season game sheets recently. The results are actually better than I anticipated:

%Team: 37.0%

%ES: 67.5%

%PP: 29.1%

Petan was in on a very high percentage of his teams goals and scored a majority of his points at even strength (81 of 120). Those are both strong indications the player was driving the bus rather than riding it, so to speak. Sean Monahan, for instance, was also key to his club’s attack, counting on about 40% of the 67’s offense. Of course, he also scored less than half of his points at 5on5, but was also saddled was a vastly inferior club. 


Even if Petan’s points total was inflated by a great Portland squad, his offensive splits are some of the strongest I’ve seen amongst draft eligibiles I’ve looked at in this fashion, especially when talking about guys available late in the first round.

The assumed risk of taking smaller players reminds me of Greg Nemisz.

Nemisz played on a similarly powerful Windsor Spitfires in his draft year but only counted on about 25% of that club’s output. He was roundly considered a "safe" pick in 2008 when the Flames took him 25th overall because of his "big body" and potential utility at both ends of the ice.

The Buffalo Sabres took the much smaller Tyler Ennis one pick later that year. He led the Medicine Hat Tigers in scoring that year with 43 goals and 91 points. He has already played three seasons in the NHL and scored 30+ points in each of them so far (inculding the recent lock-out shortened year). Greg Nemisz, on the other hand, isn’t even all that useful at the AHL level and probably won’t be retained by the organization.

This little object lesson doesn’t necessarily guarantee that Petan will make the NHL over some of his bigger peers going forward, but it does show how ignoring talent because of size or assuming a player will be useful in the future because he’s bigger can be errors.

If the Flames keep their first rounder from Pittsburgh (28-30th), there’s a chance Petan will still be on the board. With good raw output and contextual numbers, there are likely much worse picks the team could make at the end the first round.

Flames First Round Targets

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  • jeremywilhelm

    Petan, yes please.

    Sorry I never got that data on Petan to you Kent, I quit my job to move to another company and left that data on the computer (unfinished of course, haha)

  • Parallex

    On: Petan, don’t think the Flames draft him. With all the noise about wanting the team to be bigger and with them presumably drafting a forward at #6 and loads of good D-men projected in the lower ten of the first round I imagine he’ll get passed over.

    On Nemisz: I think Nemisz might be given another go around. I wouldn’t give him one but the team might (hopefully at the expense of a slot for a Kolanos/Walter type and not a guy with legit NHL potential).

    • I’d be surprised if they do. Nemisz was a Sutter pick and the club conspicuously ignored him this season, both during training camp and when they were calling up kids left and right down the stretch.

      He was also pretty bad in the AHL, so it’s not like he gave them any reason to give him another shot.

      I assume he’ll be a throw-in on some trade at best, or simply not qualified as an RFA.

  • Lordmork

    As long as the Flames don’t do something stupid and trade Pitt’s pick away, they should use it on this guy.

    Our own first is likely a Lindholm or Monohan, the Pitt pick on Petan, and whatever is the best forward available at the 22 slot with the STL pick.

    • Parallex

      I think the team will take a defenseman with one of the three… we need blueliners too and with guys like Hagg, Bowey, and Morin hanging around at those slots the team might be wise to pick up one of them.

  • Lordmork

    I’d rather have a small, skilled player than a mediocre big player. I’d rather have a team full of small, skilled players over a team of mediocre big players. And I’d much rather a team that didn’t waste roster spots on goons whose only purpose is to fight other goons.

  • Great article Kent. If the Flames don’t use the Pittsburgh pick as part of a package to move up into the top-4 I would be over the moon with Petan. He is exactly the type of player that should be looked at with a late first round pick, top 15 talent but with one flaw that seems to drop him down the board.

    Matt Taibi looked at a similar phenomenon in the NFL draft and suggested that any guy who falls in the draft order because of concerns about his weed use ends up usually being the steal of the draft. Not saying size and weed smoking are exactly the same thing. A lack of size probably has a greater effect on NHL production than weed smoking does on NFL production. But I’m not sure that a lack of size is really a barrier to being a scorer in the NHL commiserate with the degree to which smaller players are discounted in draft rankings.

    The pick of Johnny Hockey makes me hope that the Flames are moving away from drafting the type of player the drafted under Sutter and as illustrated by your Nemisz example that is probably a very very good thing.

    Also I’m loving the number of Portland players the Flames could have in the system if they draft Petan. If only the Flames could’ve got Rattie in the Jay-bo deal and had tanked harder to be in the top-3, we’d have got the whole Winterhawk set!

  • BurningSensation

    This is an alright pick, but I don’t know if he sounds like he’ll be ready for 3 years. I’d rather take Burakowsky with this pick as he is the home run swing of the draft. If he’s gone by then, package this with #6 to move up to 4 maybe. If we don’t trade this away, I would probably prefer taking a defenseman like McCoshen.

    • SmellOfVictory

      your perception of time is… odd. First of all, nearly all prospects–especially those taken in the late first–take three years or more of development. Second…

      “If he’s gone by then, package this with #6 to move up to 4 maybe.”

      That ^ makes no sense at all. If we’re in the late 20’s of the draft, that means 4 and 6 are already LONG gone. So… yeah. Can’t trade up from 6th without one of these: