Oilers excited to take chance on former first-round LW Brendan Perlini

Following the Edmonton Oilers 4-0 win over the Calgary Flames, head coach Dave Tippett speaks about the Oilers' work ethic.

EDMONTON — On Monday, the NHL and Adidas announced a new line of jerseys made of “a minimum of 50 per cent recycled content.”

Should Brendan Perlini earn one of those jerseys in Edmonton, his jersey will be filled with 100 per cent recycled content.

A former first-round pick of the Arizona Coyotes, he’s a tasty project — big, strong, fast and skilled. As Oilers head coach Dave Tippett says, “He’s the kind of guy you take a chance on, because he’s got lots of talent, and size.”

Perlini played well in Sunday’s 4-0 win at Calgary, with a goal and five shots on net in 15:52 of ice time. We’ve all seen the former first-rounder who flamed out — Zack Kassian, Ben Eager, Cody Hodgson — and the multiple efforts to rehabilitate the player in a new uniform.

Perlini, who played his first NHL season in Arizona under Tippett in 2016-17, is at Oilers camp on a two-way deal, vying for the left wing spot on Edmonton’s fourth line. It’s a far cry from being the 12th overall selection in ’14, a six-foot-three, 210-pound winger who piled up 75 goals in his final 158 junior games.

“I haven’t played in the NHL for a year and a half or longer. That’s a long time,” said the 25-year-old, who was with the Detroit Red Wings when COVID-19 struck in March of 2020. Detroit didn’t make the bubble playoffs, and Perlini ended up with Ambri-Piotta of the Swiss League last season.

“Anyone who knows me closely, my tight circle, knows that COVID — in March of ’20, when it first went down — that was the best thing for me to really sit back, take a look at things and evaluate where I was. Areas I needed to improve — on the ice, off the ice. The whole COVID period has been great for me to get my mind right,” Perlini said. “I’ve grown a lot as a person, as a player. I used that time to put into my body, my game, as well as figuring some stuff out of the ice.

“I was just looking for opportunity, wherever that is.”

So what was it that caused the NHL to move on from a first-rounder with great size and above average skating ability?

Hockey sense, two separate scouts told us. In both ends, Perlini was not in the right places often enough.

Another scout said he was a bit miscast under then-Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet in his second NHL season. Perlini was not physical enough to earn the ice time he needed to produce. In the wrong place at the wrong time for a skill guy.

Now he’s in Edmonton fighting for a fourth-line job. But as hockey becomes a less physical game, perhaps it is moving towards where Perlini can meet a minimum physical standard, so to speak.

“So, you’ve got to reinvent yourself here. What are ya?” the scout asked. “I’m going to be a checker, use my speed and skill, chip in some points. You don’t have to fight. Just take a check to make a play. Be around the action.”

Like Kassian, Perlini is that physical specimen that hockey people can always find a tryout for.

“He’s an interesting guy,” said Tippett. “There’s lots of talent there. He’s a big guy who skates well, and he’s looking to get his game, his career back on track.

“I met with him this summer down in Arizona. He just wants an opportunity to get his career back on line. He’s motivated to come back and be an NHL player again.”

Perlini will have to find the niche that players like him need to ferret out, if a first-round skill guy is going to reinvent himself as a fourth-liner, said Oilers centre Derek Ryan.

“It’s really hard to be a Top 6 guy in this league,” Ryan observed. “Perlini probably has that skill, but … if you’re not a Top 6 guy — and there’s no room on our team for that — you have to find a way to make an impact in other ways. Not (being) flashy, but playing the game simply and effective, and not being a liability.

“Whether it’s faceoffs, being really sound defensively, and at the same time having those grinding shifts as a depth player. It’s huge for our Top 6 to have more energy and more (offensive) time. Instead of us getting ground down and then they start in the D zone.”

Can a guy who made his way into the league on skill and scoring reinvent himself and rejuvenate his NHL career? Perlini thinks he can.

“Am I one thing or another? I think I’m just a hockey player,” he said. “It’s not rocket science. It’s just playing a good, hard honest game. I’m a big guy, so use my body well. Use my speed to my advantage and hold pucks. It’s not anything too crazy.”

Ryan has it right. If Perlini can figure out how to be a reliable fourth-line player, his skills may allow him to be part of that support scoring that the Oilers have lacked.

“That’s exactly it,” he said. “When you’re surrounded by world class players, McDavid, Draisaitl, you’ve got to provide support. Do something a little bit different (than he’s done in the past). Just play good, solid hockey.”

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