HOUGHTON - Michigan Tech hockey freshman forward Jujhar Khaira already has name recognition in Houghton after being drafted in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, but it's another freshman forward who may have an even bigger immediate impact with the Huskies.
Alex Petan, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound forward from Delta, British Columbia, flew under the scouting radar a few years ago, but the now-20-year-old exploded for 88 points (38 goals, 50 assists) last year in 55 games as captain of the Coquitlam Express of the British Columbia Hockey League.
"Jujhar could be a program changer but a guy who might be more of a game changer right now is Alex Petan," Tech coach Mel Pearson said. "He's a little older (than 18-year-old Khaira), and he had a really strong year.
Michigan Tech hockey freshman forward Alex Petan waits for a pass from a teammate during a drill in a recent preseason practice. Huskies coach Mel Pearson expects big things right away from the 5-foot-9, 175-pound forward. (DMG photo by Stephen Anderson)
"He's very skilled, a great skater, good with the puck, with good vision, and he's very competitive," Pearson added. "He has a chance to really make our offense better and fit into the style of play we're really incorporating. His patience and puck skills separate him and he makes things happen because of his patience and poise."
Pearson also pointed out that just about all of the Huskies' recruits are just starting to come into their own and play their best hockey now.
That's certainly true for Petan, who got off to an admittedly rough start for the then-Burnaby Express, tallying just three goals and four assists in 49 games in 2009-10.
"It started off a little rocky," Petan said. "My first year I just got the experience, didn't get much ice and worked my butt off every day. The second year was obviously a little better and I contributed a little more (13 goals, 20 assists in 51 games)."
A major key to Petan's growth in that second year was playing part of the season on a line with Massimo Lamacchia and Destry Straight, who now play for Division I Brown and Boston College, respectively.
Petan was then named captain of coach Jon Calvano's team last year, and he flourished, earning his way to the sixth-highest scoring total in the highly competitive BCHL. Khaira was 10th with 79 points for the Prince George Spruce Kings, while another Tech freshman forward, Malcolm Gould, was 16th with 72 points for the Chilliwack Chiefs.
Michigan Tech assistant coach Bill Muckalt first got in contact with Petan last summer, and that early contact was key in light of other schools pursuing the blossoming forward.
"Billy kept knocking on my door and giving me a call, and I felt that Tech was the best opportunity for me and I'm really happy being here and so far it's been awesome," Petan said. "I had a few other options, just from the recruiting process, and meeting Billy and (assistant coach) Damon (Whitten) and Mel just talking to them they showed the most interest and what they had to say went right to my heart. Especially when I visited here during the year it really sent chills up my spine and it felt right."
Petan had already committed by the time he visited Houghton in November, but seeing the campus and facilities only confirmed his decision. After last hockey season finished, Petan has spent his summer with personal trainer Peter Provenzano, who has helped big-name clients such as longtime Vancouver Canuck forward Markus Naslund.
"He knows what's coming up here for the big jump to college hockey and we really worked on specific things this summer and I felt like it went really well," Petan said, citing speed, explosiveness and strength as areas he worked on.
Petan, who has been a forward from the day he started playing organized hockey at 4 years old, considers himself a playmaker, whether that means creating opportunities for linemates, or burying the puck in the net himself. He has typically played in fast-paced systems similar to Pearson's style at Tech.
Petan is currently staying in a dorm room with Khaira, Gould and freshman goaltender Jamie Phillips. He is majoring in sports and fitness management, and he hopes to one day become a personal trainer like Provenzano - after, of course, what he hopes will be a long hockey career.
Petan, who also enjoys playing soccer, basketball and golf, has a younger brother Nic who just recently won a gold medal with Team Canada's U18.
Growing up, Alex played largely at the AAA level, and he's known current Tech sophomore defenseman Riley Sweeney since they were kids. In the 11th grade, Petan, who will wear No. 23 at Tech, moved on to play major midget hockey for the Okanagon Hockey Academy, which led to his three-year stint at the Junior A level in the BCHL, and eventually to Houghton.
Editor's note: This article is the fourth in a series of "Tech Tomorrow" features on 2012-13 Michigan Tech hockey freshmen. Previous features have been written about forward C.J. Eick (tinyurl.com/ctbetn3) and goaltenders Jamie Phillips (tinyurl.com/d9luryk) and Pheonix Copley (tinyurl.com/cdvc72o).