Jets’ Cole Perfetti poised to make most of second shot with Canada

Cole Perfetti spoke about the excitement of being drafted by the Winnipeg Jets 10th overall and his special talent of solving a Rubik's cube in under a minute.

WINNIPEG — When the knock came, Cole Perfetti already knew exactly what it meant.

It’s a sound many talented players heard before him, but that didn’t make it any easier to hear.

The date was Dec. 12, 2019 and Canada’s world junior roster had just been trimmed by nine players.

Perfetti was one of them and this was foreign territory for him — as he’d never been cut before.

“I remember being in the hotel room and I got a knock on the door and my stomach immediately dropped,” Perfetti said on a Zoom call with reporters Monday. “It’s a tough feeling going to the room knowing that you’re about to get released from the team. It was the worst minute of my life.”

Contrast that sinking feeling with what Perfetti was experiencing Monday, when he officially put pen to paper on his first NHL contract, a three-year, entry-level deal with the Jets.

“It’s a pretty cool process how it works,” said Perfetti, who was chosen 10th overall by the Jets in the 2020 NHL Draft. “When I first got the hard copy (of the contract), I kind of just looked it up and down and couldn’t really believe it. It’s hard to believe when you work so hard all your life and then it all starts to pay off with one signature on a piece of paper, it’s pretty surreal. It was a cool moment for sure, to look at it and take it all in.”

Going from top prospect to drafted player hasn’t brought about many changes in Perfetti’s life.

“Honestly, it’s been kind of the same. Nothing’s really changed too much,” said Perfetti. “It hasn’t really sunk in 100 per cent yet, because normally we’d be in Saginaw playing hockey, or with the Jets. I’d be somewhere and it would start to feel more real. But right now it seems the same and nothing’s really changed. My day to day is the same and all my buddies are all acting the same and my family’s the same. It’s been really similar to what it was before the draft.”

The reason the world junior experience was top of mind is that on Monday, Perfetti will be among the 47 hopefuls expecting to hit the ice for Canada’s world junior evaluation camp in Red Deer, Alta.

It may have been the worst minute of his life, but it was an important one.

When faced with this type of situation, it’s natural for some players to hang their head and focus on what might have been.

Perfetti chose to focus on the positives and not let the disappointment derail his season with the Saginaw Spirit.

“He put our team on his back when he came back from that world junior camp and he was producing as a two-points-a-game player,” said Spirit general manager Dave Drinkill. “We were rolling right into the stoppage and the eventual shutdown of our league. He’s not a kid you have to motivate.”

Keeping things in perspective was critical for Perfetti.

“There are so many lessons you can learn in being cut from a team. That being my first time ever being cut, it was definitely a wakeup call,” said Perfetti, who finished his second OHL campaign with 37 goals and 111 points in 61 games, just behind Marco Rossi. “But the big lesson for me was how to bounce back from adversity. Being cut is tough, especially from a team like that. At that level of hockey, it was definitely disappointing, but I learned a lot about how to use that as motivation and how to fuel me for the rest of the season and up to this point. I’m still using it as motivation from being cut last year and taking that into camp this year and hopefully make the team this time around.

“But the (exit) meeting (last December) was quick and easy and they just said that they were going a different way, and good luck next year, as I’ll be a big part of the team next year. I just tried to use that as motivation, not only to just make the team this year, but also to dominate all of last year in the OHL. To hear them say that I’m going to be a big part of this year’s team, that was nice to hear. I’m just going to go into camp with the mindset of me being cut last year and doing whatever it takes to make the team this year. I’m excited for camp and I can’t wait to leave next week.”

As for the upcoming season, there’s a lot left to be sorted out.

Pefetti’s immediate focus is to claim his spot with Team Canada, which should be led by Chicago Blackhawks centre Kirby Dach.

The team could get a further boost if the New York Rangers decide to make first-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere available for the title defence after Canada captured the gold medal in January.

“The tournament is going to be crazy this year,” said Perfetti. “They’re going to be getting guys that they weren’t expecting and it’s definitely going to elevate the play of the tournament. Hopefully, I can be a part of that and make the team and be a part of that tournament and be one of those guys that are elevating the play. It’s pretty cool to be part of a tournament that has that much skill and is of that high of calibre, but I just have my sights right now on making the team and on doing whatever it takes to make the roster.

“Just keeping sharp on the ice is big for me. It’s obviously to go into camp expecting to play games and be your best right away when you haven’t played a game since March, but I feel I’ve been doing a lot on the ice (and) off the ice to prepare me for that. One thing is if you make the team you’re going to be gone for two months, so kind of soaking in family and friends’ time right now, getting as much as I can before I leave. That will be a mental grind going away for two months and being in a bubble. But my support group is going to be watching and talking to me every day, so I’m just trying to see my family and spend a lot of time with them before I leave.”

If Perfetti is among those players chosen to represent his country at this high-profile event — and he’s considered a strong bet to make the club given his ability and versatility of being able to play both centre and wing — it should serve as an excellent learning ground.

It could also give him a leg up when it comes to attending his first NHL training camp in January.

“This is the closest hockey that you can get to the next level, to the NHL,” said Perfetti. “The mixture of the pace and the skill and the quality of play out there — it’s definitely going to prepare me, if I can make that team, to go into Jets camp and feel really prepared and be playing the top level of hockey going into the next level. I’m really excited for that and I think that would be a great tune-up for Jets camp.”

Known for his high intelligence level on and off the ice, Perfetti pointed to a Tampa Bay Lightning forward as a player he patterns his game after.

“Someone that I have watched a lot recently, especially in the playoffs, is Brayden Point. He is someone that kind of does it all,” said Perfetti. “His brain and IQ and skill up front make him a threat in the offensive zone. But I think he plays that two-way game and has really evolved his game the last two years and has really dominated the league the last little bit.

“He is someone that I would try to take points from his game and kind of put them into mine. Obviously, it is very hard as he is one of those top-end guys, but he is definitely someone who I would model my game after and I have enjoyed watching the last little bit.”

Perfetti was also asked to weigh in on the prospect of a potential Ontario Hockey League season without hitting — which is a subject that has been discussed as the junior circuit works to prepare for a Feb. 4 target date.

“I don’t see how the no hitting is going to work. I mean, we’ve been playing with it our whole lives, and it’s major junior hockey,” said Perfetti. “There’s still going to be scrums and stuff and battles in the corner, so I don’t see why hitting wouldn’t work. But whatever the cards are dealt we’re going to deal with it and keep playing. If there is no hitting, I’m still going to play my game and just be able to play the game again, and whatever the case may be just kind of roll with the adversity.

“Hopefully things go back to normal and we’re allowed to play with hitting and more of a regular season, whatever you consider that. There’s a lot of uncertainty, but I’m just hoping that things, especially the OHL season and the NHL, will be a normal season, somewhat. But at the end of the day, whatever we’re told to do we’re all going to go play our hardest, for sure.”

Monday was about taking care of the business side of things, which includes a contract that carries an average annual value of $1,658,333 (standard salary of $925,000, plus a signing bonus of $92,500 and performance bonuses).

Daring to dream is also part of the process and Perfetti is like anyone is his position as a high draft pick.

“As a player going in and looking at that roster, looking at those potential teammates and linemates, you get really excited,” said Perfetti. “I was definitely very happy going to the Jets with the way their future is going and the way they are trending. The players they have, they are just world-class players like (Mark) Scheifele, (Blake) Wheeler, (Kyle) Connor and (Patrik) Laine… the list goes on and on, there are so many great players.

“To just think about getting a chance to play with some of those guys, it’s pretty unbelievable. They are world-class players, and to think that you may be taking or giving passes to them in a year’s time, it’s hard to believe. But as a player, you definitely get pretty excited looking at that lineup and thinking you might be able to play with those guys.”

You can’t make the jump to the next step if you don’t have faith in yourself to get the job done.

“I think every kid’s dream and every player’s goal is to make the NHL as fast as possible, and that’s obviously my goal — to make it this year,” said Perfetti. “It’s definitely a far achievement, and it’s going to be very hard to do. But I think it’s possible. There are so many great players within the Jets lineup, but there are also places where I might be able to slot in. I think I’d be able to make the jump due to my progress I made in the off-season, in the weight room and on the ice. I definitely think I improved a lot this year and fixed up things that needed to be fixed. I feel great going into camp. Going into Jets camp I’m going to be feeling great as well. I can’t wait for that.

“It’s going to be very hard. And obviously the Jets are going to have a plan for me in what they want and a goal for me. Hopefully I earn a spot and play very good at camp, so that they are forced to keep me there. But I’ll be happy with whatever the plan is. My goal will always be making the NHL as fast as possible. And I’m going to do whatever it takes to step into the league right away.”

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