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Montreal Canadiens trade target: Nic Petan could be a valuable asset in a retooling

The young centre hasn’t found a place in Winnipeg, and he could be a great buy at the deadline for the Habs.

NHL: Preseason-Winnipeg Jets at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

While the trade market around the league is buzzing with big names like Max Pacioretty, Rick Nash, and the entire Ottawa Senators core, several smaller names serve as intriguing targets as well. One of these players comes from Winnipeg in the form of Nic Petan, a 2013 second-round pick who hasn’t been able to carve out a consistent place in the Winnipeg Jets’ lineup.

While he hasn’t directly been mentioned in any rumours, the Jets are in an interesting position in which they have the prospect depth to trade Petan away and get NHL assets for a playoff run right now.

Montreal should be strapping on their armoured helmets and preparing the tank for the rest of this year, while also planning for the future when considering their trades. For that reason, a target like Petan should be of great interest to Marc Bergevin with the trade deadline approaching. He’s still quite young (he turns 23 in March), has solid AHL production — reminiscent of another undersized, skilled player in the Habs’ current lineup — and can come at a cheap price when a new contract comes up.

In his WHL career, Petan posted extremely high point totals while playing for a powerhouse Portland Winterhawks team. With seasons of 120, 113, and 89 points in his junior career, and playing above a point-per-game pace in the AHL this season, he is a potent, offensive-minded forward, and that’s something Montreal desperately needs in its prospect pool.

Outside of Nikita Scherbak, and brief glimpses from Joni Ikonen, the Canadiens lack a high-end offensive player in the forward corps. Jake Evans is an unknown at the professional level, and Ryan Poehling has a few more years in the NCAA to go. While Lukas Vejdemo has thrived this year in Sweden, his ceiling doesn’t read like that of a scoring forward. Outside of Scherbak, none of these players has any NHL experience, and that’s something Petan can bring to the table in a trade.

Looking at his stats alone, it’s clear that Petan is a dynamic playmaker. He’s able to get plays set up in transition or while set up in the offensive zone.

Since being sent down this year, he’s been a crucial force for the Manitoba Moose who have become one of the AHL’s most dominant sides. This was evident in the Moose’s recent decimation of the Laval Rocket, when Petan notched five points in two games, including a pair of highlight-reel assists.

With 41 points in 39 games, Petan ranks in the top 10 for overall scoring in the AHL this season, and is tied for seventh in assists with 29. He’s having a breakout year, and that is no surprise as teammates like Jack Roslovic and Mason Appleton come into their own after finishing their NCAA careers.

So why exactly would the Jets sell on a prospect who is in the midst of his best professional year?

It’s simple really: they haven’t used him as much more than a fourth-line body under Paul Maurice, and that doesn’t fit his skill set. The Jets have favoured players such as Brandon Tanev and Adam Lowry, even Shawn Matthias and Chris Thorburn over regularly playing the young forward.

While he’s thriving in the AHL, Petan is more than due for a serious NHL look at centre, something Montreal also desperately needs. It’s a a solid match between two teams that can become one of those rare instances which both teams come out on top in a trade.

The cost for acquiring a young talented player can vary, depending on the needs of the other team involved in the trade. With Jacob Trouba out long term for the Jets, their need immediately becomes finding a defencemen to bridge the gap without breaking the bank as well.

Unfortunately for the Habs, their only five right-side defencemen under contract are Shea Weber (injured), Jeff Petry (no-move clause), Joe Morrow, Brett Lernout, and Noah Juulsen . We can immediately eliminate Weber, and Petry from trade contention, given the roles they play in Montreal. Morrow still has difficulty cracking an NHL lineup with regularity, despite his offensive abilities. Lernout is an interesting case as he shows glimpses of being a solid defensive option on the blue line, but has struggled to find consistency in his game in the AHL. And the Canadiens aren’t really in a position to be trading away a defenceman like Juulsen who could make the NHL team as early as next season

An option like Jordie Benn, who has said he is more comfortable playing on the right, could possibly be appealing. His contract is highly affordable, and he can play either side of the ice on defence. Shifting him down could help the Jets tremendously when Trouba gets healthy, but moving an offensive prospect for a third-pairing defenceman may not be much of an enticement.

There is always of course the option of trading picks as well, and this is as good a year as any for the Canadiens as they possess three second-round picks in the upcoming NHL draft. Montreal’s own pick is likely to be in the 30s, while Chicago’s could be in the first half of the second round as well. There can be plenty of value in trading a pick that could only potentially reach the same heights as the developed asset being acquired.

If the team is hoping to get something in return for Tomas Plekanec on an expiring contact, Petan would be a great return for a rental if the Jets were to decide to go with a more experienced centreman for a playoff run.

Such a move wouldn’t be a saving grace for this Habs season, or even a move that somehow sparks the Canadiens’ offence into life, but trading for a player like Nic Petan is how good teams build for long-term success. He’s a young asset who is capable of putting up points at almost every level he’s played at, outside of the NHL where he hasn’t been given a chance to show his skills.

The Canadiens need help down the middle, and they need more skilled youth in their system. Petan provides both, and could likely be had for a reasonable price.

The Canadiens rebuild/retool won’t happen overnight, but it’s the small foundation pieces like this that should help steer the ship back on course going forward.