Nicolas Petan led the WHL in points during the regular season, and finished second in points during the playoffs. His team, the Portland Winterhawks, won the WHL championship in style, scoring 334 goals during the regular season and 82 during the playoffs, both tops in the WHL. So why on earth is Petan languishing in 32nd in the consensus rankings?
In brief, he's very small for a professional hockey player. He didn't have any time to bulk up before the combine, so his playing weight is likely a touch higher but at 5'8.5'' and 164 pounds, he's certainly one of the smallest players in the draft. Of course, he's not the only small player that I've got ranked (spoiler alert) inside the top thirty: Max Domi is just 5'9.5'' and Hunter Shinkaruk is only 5'10.5'' and both of them are pegged as sure first-round picks by basically everyone.
So what are the other concerns about Petan? According to Corey Pronman, "his diminutive stature is his only glaring weakness," which at least suggests some other possible weaknesses, and while Pronman doesn't mention any, it's not hard to see what they might be. As I mentioned earlier, Petan's team was very good indeed, scoring more goals than any other team in the WHL by a substantial margin. As a result, it's fair to wonder how much of Petan's offense came because he was playing with such a talented group of players. It's a concern that's especially fair given Petan's rather pedestrian scoring totals in 2011-12 (he had 35 points in 83 games).
The lack of consistent production makes his future NHL performance tougher to project. Was this year a real step forward, or is this a lucky season being fueled by Petan's percentages or star linemates? And if we don't know the answer, how should teams hedge their bets? Kent Wilson's excellent article on Petan has me leaning towards Petan having taken a large step forward. According to Wilson, Petan has scored a significant number of his points at even strength (81 of his 120 regular season points), and registered at least one point on a large percentage of Portland's goals, both of which suggest that Petan is one of the players driving the offense on the Winterhawks.
Another thing that gives me confidence in Petan? His historical performance. If Petan is selected with one of the first thirty picks he will slide into 19th in adjusted points among forwards drafted with one of the first thirty picks in the last thirty years. And what does that give him for comparables? Let's find out. In this case a comparable player was someone who played his draft year in the CHL, had an adjusted goals per game rate between 0.58 and 0.71, an adjusted points per game rate between 1.55 and 1.90 (90% to 110% of Petan's production), and was selected somewhere between 27th and 37th overall.
Well then. Petan is, as you'd imagine, not a guy with very many comparables, since most players with those kind of numbers don't usually fall this far in the draft. The one hit is a guy who busted, which is pretty discouraging. What if we expand the criteria a bit. In this case a comparable player was someone who played his draft year in the CHL, had an adjusted goals per game rate between 0.51 and 0.77, an adjusted points per game rate between 1.38 and 2.07 (80% to 120% of Petan's production), and was selected somewhere between 22nd and 42nd overall.
Most of these comparables are coming from the lower end of Petan's range, but this does at least provide us with a few more names. Now let's look at each player's number of regular season games and his career points per game.
I don't know why I find this so surprising, but I do. Most of these fallers seem to have had a reason for falling. In Phillips's case that reason had something to do with taking a huge leap in offense from his Draft -1 season, and not being the guy who was driving the offense on a stacked offensive team. Phillips just played his first year in the AHL during 2012-13 and couldn't crack half a point per game.
On the plus side for Petan, the one guy who fell mostly because of size is having a pretty good NHL career right now, and most of these players are at least a small step down in points per game. There's still some chance that Petan will become an excellent offensive player, and I wouldn't scoff at a team that takes him higher than I've placed him here, but this profile more than any other has reminded me that there's also a significant chance for most of these players to struggle to get to the NHL at all.
Next up this afternoon: Valentin Zykov
My Draft List:
1 - Nathan MacKinnon (Comparables)
2 - Jonathan Drouin (Comparables)
3 - Seth Jones (Comparables)
4 - Aleksander Barkov (Comparables)
5 - Elias Lindholm (Comparables)
6 - Valeri Nichushkin (Comparables)
7 - Sean Monahan (Comparables)
8 - Rasmus Ristolainen (Comparables)
9 - Darnell Nurse (Comparables)
10 - Anthony Mantha (Comparables)
11 - Max Domi (Comparables)
12 - Ryan Pulock (Comparables)
13 - Artturi Lehkonen (Comparables)
14 - Alexander Wennberg (Comparables)
15 - Hunter Shinkaruk (Comparables)
16 - Kerby Rychel (Comparables)
17 - Nikita Zadorov (Comparables)
18 - Frederik Gauthier (Comparables)
19 - Josh Morrissey (Comparables)
20 - Nicolas Petan
21 - Bo Horvat (Comparables)
22 - Adam Erne (Comparables)
23 - Curtis Lazar (Comparables)
24 - Andre Burakowsky (Comparables)
25 - Robert Hagg (Comparables)