Notice has been served: Cole Perfetti has arrived for the Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg Jets' Cole Perfetti (91) warms up before taking on the Edmonton Oilers during NHL preseason action in Edmonton on Saturday, October 2, 2021. (Jason Franson/CP)

WINNIPEG – This isn’t about searching for silver linings when things have gone south for the Winnipeg Jets.

But the arrival of Cole Perfetti is too important a story to overlook or put on the back-burner, even after the Jets lost a season-high fifth consecutive game (0-3-2), this one a 5-3 defeat to the league-leading Florida Panthers on Tuesday night that leaves the team with a record of 17-15-7.

On an evening where the bright spots were limited, there was Perfetti taking another important step forward in his development, showcasing his patience and poise while chipping in two assists – one at even strength and another on the power play – as he suited up in his ninth NHL game this season.

Heading into Thursday’s pivotal matchup with the Vancouver Canucks, Perfetti is on the precipice of the all-important 10th game, the one that ensures the first year of his entry-level deal will be used.

If there was any thought the Jets were considering returning Perfetti to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League to potentially preserve that first year via the entry-level slide, Perfetti’s recent play has alleviated any concerns about whether or not he was ready to try to tackle full-time duty.

While it’s true that Perfetti’s timeline has been expedited somewhat by a knee injury that will keep Nikolaj Ehlers out of the lineup until at least Feb. 14, things were already trending in this direction.

Now there is really no reason to delay the inevitable.

Perfetti has looked like a completely different player than the enthusiastic-but-inexperienced guy who made his NHL debut back in October against the Anaheim Ducks when Mark Scheifele was serving the final game of his suspension from the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Of course, usage and ice time plays an obvious role in his enhanced comfort level, but Perfetti has earned the right to continue to play on the Jets top line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor, at least for the time being.

No, this strong stretch doesn’t ensure a permanent spot there, nor does it suggest there aren’t going to be any hiccups to navigate during the second half of the season.

But with each passing day, Perfetti seems to ace another test and take another step forward.

The evidence presented on Tuesday was impressive.

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With the Jets trailing 2-1, Perfetti accepted a pass from Dylan Samberg, skated into the offensive zone and instead of forcing a play, he held steady along the boards, kept his head up and made a surgical cross-ice feed to Connor, who calmly walked in and buried a backhand for his team-leading 23rd goal of the season.

Then, in the second period, there was Perfetti with the man-advantage, waiting until precisely the moment Panthers defenceman Radko Gudas had abandoned his check in the slot and sprawled out in an effort to try to take away the passing lane.

Once again, Perfetti didn’t flinch, effortlessly moving the puck around the sliding Gudas before making a delicate, yet crisp pass to Dubois on the doorstep for his 18th goal, tying the game at 3-3.

These two snapshots were what will show up on the highlight-reel, magical moments that are available for all to see.

They are also representative of something bigger.

If Perfetti is going to stay with Dubois and Connor, not only does he need to generate offensive opportunities like he has been previously, he also needs to produce results.

And just like that, Perfetti went from having one solitary point in eight games to three points in nine – all of which have come during the past five games.

This transition was always going to take time, but that ability to process the game at a high rate is serving Perfetti extremely well.

Jets forward Paul Stastny knows a thing or two about being an elite thinker and he was ready to dole out a few compliments when asked about Perfetti after the game.

“It’s not surprising,” said Stastny, who scored his ninth goal of the season. “When you’re a smart player like this, you kind of get used to it. If you make a mistake, you learn from it, you don’t make that same mistake again. And every game you’re out there, you get more and more comfortable. And whether it’s a division game, or whether it’s playing a team out east, one of the top teams in the league that plays a fast game, whether it’s on the power play or whether it’s kind of D-zone, he’s kind of learning on the fly and the more games you play, the more comfortable you get under your skin.

“The chemistry he’s built with his linemates I think makes it a little easier for him, and he’s starting to make more plays offensively. And, defensively, I think he’s learned to realize he doesn’t have to force-feed those guys if there’s nothing (there). Just to clear it out and then kind of turn the page and then worry about the next shift. It’s something that the more it happens in games, when you’re a smart player, it just has to happen once for you to remember it and for it to click in your head and you kind of learn from that forever.”

If you looked closely enough, you could see Perfetti nodding his head in agreement as Stastny was delivering his answer.

Simply by listening to what the veteran forward had to say, this was another example of Perfetti soaking in another one of those teachable moments from someone whose opinion he obviously values.

“I definitely think the more you play, the more you get comfortable, the more confidence you get,” said Perfetti. “Game by game, it’s getting a little better but obviously it’s a pretty tough league and it’s going to take time to learn. I definitely feel it’s slowing down by a hair and I’m getting a little more confidence to make some plays.

“Obviously, it’s special being in this league. I saw a quote the other day from Keith Yandle saying any day you’ve got an NHL logo on your jersey, it’s a good day. It’s a privilege to be here and it’s a dream come true, so I’m not taking it for granted. Just loving every second of it. But like (Stastny) was saying, it’s frustrating. You want to win and we’ve got a really good team, so we just want to start winning and having success.”

Since he was chosen 10th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft, the hockey intelligence and offensive talent has always been top-of-mind when it comes to the discussion about Perfetti’s skillset.

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And for good reason, he’s gifted in that area of the game.

Whether it’s his spacial awareness, vision, passing ability or his quick release and underrated shot, a lot of the tools are there already.

Like most 20-year-olds, Perfetti will need to continue working on his skating.

But his ability to anticipate the play is already helping him level the playing field as he finds his footing.

Perhaps one of the things that’s stood out about how Perfetti is adapting on the fly has been his mostly diligent defensive play.

“It’s a lot faster, the guys are heavier and sticks are a lot better, and I noticed a couple of times I made mistakes,” said Perfetti. “Just trying to learn from those and not make those mistakes again. I’m a smaller guy, I’m not going to go in the corner and outmuscle someone.

“But it’s finding ways to get your stick in there and do other things to disrupt the play and strip the puck without having to engage too hard physically. It’s been an adjustment, it’s been a learning curve, and I think it’s been getting better every game. There’s just so much to learn, so I’m just going to keep continuing and moving on with it.”

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Whether that’s taking a hit to make a play along the wall or digging in to make sure he chips the puck out with a great second effort, those are some of the other things that help to earn the trust of the coaching staff – which is essential for any player trying to break into the league and solidify his standing.

“He’s a very detail-oriented kid. He wants to learn. He wants to get better and that’s something he’ll continue to work on every day,” said Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry. “And that is something that he’ll continue to get better on. He’s a very positive kid and he wants to learn. I think he knows that if he makes a mistake, he’s going to get back out there. And that plays a big part in it.

“We’re going to live with his mistakes, but if he’s making the same mistake over and over and over, then it’s something we would have to look at addressing. But his mistakes, he’s trying out there. And it’s not from lack of effort, it’s just understanding you have to play the game a certain way and when you don’t have the puck, you have to really manage that.”

Perfetti is an upbeat individual who is clearly enjoying the ride.

He realizes that he’s probably arriving a bit ahead of schedule, but he looks and sounds like a guy who is starting to feel more and more at home in his new surroundings.

Mistakes are part of the game, but it’s about being aware of where those things are happening and making sure they don’t occur often.

“You’re not just going to know automatically, it’s a feeling-out process. Being a 20-year-old kid who has only played nine games, there is a lot of feeling out,” said Perfetti. “It’s getting better. There have been a few times where I’ve made a couple mistakes, but it’s learning from those on video.

“Put them in the vault and just remember the solution for that play in the future. I’ve noticed a couple times as the play is happening, you know, remembering to do something different. I found success a couple times (on Tuesday), and I’ve just got to keep doing that and keep learning and going through it and getting the experience. That’s the biggest thing.”


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