On Monday, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Winnipeg Jets locked up a key piece of the future, signing forward Cole Perfetti to a three-year, $4.975 million entry-level contract. The deal carries the typical $925K yearly cap hit, while providing the 18-year-old with some spending money in the form of a $93K signing bonus.
“It feels unbelievable to sign and get the business side done,” Perfetti told reporters on Monday afternoon. “It’s a pretty cool process how it works. When I first got the hard copy, 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 get the hard copy and look at it and take it all in. It was an unbelievable process and it was pretty cool to finally sign my first contract.”
Selected 10th overall by the Jets this past October in the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Perfetti has had some time to take a thorough look at Winnipeg’s roster, assessing his future teammates, while looking for a place to potentially slot into the already star-studded lineup.
“As a player going in and looking at that roster, looking at those potential teammates and linemates, you get really excited,” he said. “I was definitely very happy going to the Jets with the way their future is going and the way they are trending. 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.”
And when, exactly, does the baby-faced offence-driver plan to make the jump to full-time NHL duty? As early as the 2020-21 season, according to Perfetti.
“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, is to make it this year,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s definitely a far achievement, and it’s going to be very hard to do, but I think it’s possible. There’s so many great players within the Jets lineup, but there’s also places where I might be able to slot in. 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 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.”
And to do so, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound center has spent considerable time on the ice, in the gym, on the treadmills, and at spin classes, building both his strength and cardio levels during the extended COVID-19 pause.
“I think the biggest thing of improvement for me will just be speed and strength,” Perfetti reflected. “Obviously it’s a big jump from the OHL and it’s a man’s game at the next level and everyone’s so strong and fast. That’s just going to take time in the weight room and getting that man strength still and maturing more and more into my body and natural strength will come. I think that’s really the biggest thing that I need to improve on if I want to make the jump next year. I’ve spent five days in the gym every week, skating three-to-four times a week. I’ve even been doing the spin class with a couple of my buddies to work on conditioning, and skating and treadmill, to work on conditioning. Just a bunch of stuff like that. So it’s been pretty much 6-7 days working hard on or off the ice, usually both, just been doing that since April. So it’s been a while. Just been really getting into the gym and taking advantage of this time.”
Perfetti has spent the past two seasons playing with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League, where he has racked up 82 goals, 199 points and 30 penalty minutes in 140 total OHL contests, including 37 goals and 111 points in 61 games played in 2019-20. He was one of Team Canada’s final cuts at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Hockey Challenge, and vows to make the club this time around.
“There are so many lessons you can learn in being cut from a team,” Perfetti said. “With that being my first time ever being cut, it was definitely a wakeup call. 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.”
Obviously a difficult experience, Perfetti vividly recalls the exact moment he was released from the national squad, which he also says immediately prompted his efforts to crack the roster for the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton, AB. this winter.
“I remember being in the hotel room and I got a knock on the door and my stomach immediately dropped,” he painfully recalled. “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. But the meeting 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.”
The 2021 running of the annual Christmastime event will look slightly different than past iterations. Playing out of the NHL’s Edmonton hub city ‘bubble’, teams will have the opportunity to bring forward some of the strongest players available, as the NHL season will not yet have gotten underway – Something the Jets’ top pick is elated for.
“That tournament’s going to be crazy this year,” Perfetti said. “There’s going to be a lot of players that normally wouldn’t be there. For example, Kirby Dach coming back to Canada, that’s a huge boost for the roster and for the lineup. All the countries are going to be like that. 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.”
With a bead on both the rosters of Team Canada and the Winnipeg Jets, Cole Perfetti has his sights locked in on a strong path of development beginning next week at the World Junior Training Camp taking place in Red Deer, AB.
“I think this is the closest hockey that you can get to the next level, to the NHL,” he said. “The mixture of the pace and the skill and the quality of play out there, it’s definitely going to prepare me 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. I just need to keep sharp on the ice and make sure that I go into camp at my best… 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’s gonna 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.”