From the moment he made his AHL season debut against the Grand Rapids Griffins on October 22, Cole Perfetti looked dialed in.
Every time he corralled the puck on the first power play unit, he looked poised to make a play. At even strength, the 19-year-old created a team-high four scoring chances, driving the puck right to the front of the net and creating quality chances at will. Perfetti didn’t record a point that game, but his output was palpable.
“There’s a lot more, I think, that we’re going to see from him,” Manitoba Moose Head Coach Mark Morrison told reporters after that game.
Morrison’s intuition was bang on.
In seven games this season, Perfetti has recorded five points (2G, 3A), averaging 2.71 shots and a team-high 3.5 scoring chances per game. According to InStat, his on-ice impacts have been impressive, too, as he boasts an expected goals (XG) percentage of 65.1% to go along with a 62% Corsi rating. The Winnipeg Jets’ 2020 first round selection is picking up right where he left off last season, when he recorded 26 points in 32 games with the Moose (which is impressive, given how much better the AHL is this year with NHL taxi-squads no longer in use).
“It’s a completely different league,” Moose forward Jeff Malott told MooseTV after losing 4-1 to the Iowa Wild on October 31. “Every guy in the lineup each night is either a high prospect or an established player. It takes a lot. There’s a lot more consistency that goes into it; there’s a lot more general intensity.”
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Perfetti has been a driver for the Moose.
When the Jets’ AHL affiliate was down 4-0 to Iowa, Morrison changed up the lines and moved Perfetti from centre to the left wing alongside David Gustafsson – Perfetti scored shortly thereafter. When Manitoba was trailing Rockford 4-1 last night in the third period, it was Perfetti who set up Malott to bring the Moose within two goals. Less than a calendar year from when the 5’11 baby-faced forward appeared timid and shy from the onset of the Moose’s season, Perfetti has solidfied himself as a go-to guy for Manitoba. And that’s what Perfetti’s been set on doing.
“That’s kinda, I think, the biggest reason why I’m down [in the AHL] is to play those key roles, play those big minutes, and play all situations so when the time is that I hopefully can go back up with the Jets. I feel confident in myself and feel able to be successful in all those different positions on the ice and within the game,” Perfetti told reporters after his Moose debut.
Cole Perfetti with a nifty feed to Jeff Malott, who takes the monkey off his back and scores his first goal of the season.
As per @InStatHockey, Malott's averaging a team-high 2.1 Inner-Slot Scoring Chances per game.
— Jacob Stoller (@JLStoller) November 8, 2021
Moose assistant coach Eric Dubois had a feeling this sort of thing was going to happen.
“We could tell right away during [NHL] training camp when we did a lot of one-on-one battles with the Jets. It’s the first thing [Marty Johnson and I] noticed, how much stronger he was on the puck,” Dubois said back on October 24.
It’s evident that Perfetti, who played in his first two career NHL games less than a month ago after making the Jets opening night roster, has put his added muscle to good use. He’s frequently taking the puck right to the front of the net, as opposed to staying around the perimeter and shooting from farther out. It’s the little details like that which will make all the difference.
Perfetti has been made aware of how the Jets organization preaches patience with their prospects and focuses on the nuances while giving young players the leeway to master their craft in the minor leagues.
“The biggest thing [Paul Maurice] harped on was creating space along the wall. Just getting off the wall quickly and creating that extra four, five feet,” Perfetti explained. “That’s what he said Kyle Connor did when he came down with his stint with the Moose; he kind of worked on that and really elevated that part of his game. You see him do it at the next level — just being able to create space for himself — and that’s why he’s such an elite goal scorer.”
Naturally, it’s fair to wonder if that quote is some sort of indication that the team wants to develop Perfetti as a wing, not a centre. A look at the Jets depth chart — with Mark Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois down the middle — only furthers that curiosity. But as Morrison points out, getting reps down low in the defensive zone as a centre is an invaluable skill, It’s one that should be exhausted, not ignored, through the course of his development (even if he does end up starting on the wing with the Jets).
“You can always go from centre to wing because it’s an easy transition, but you can’t go from wing to centre very easily,” Morrison told Full Press after Moose practice on October 26.
Don’t let his early success or his occasional usage on the wing deter you; the plan is still in place. Perfetti’s going to be with the Moose for the rest of the season as the organization continues to play the long game (barring a long-term injury to a key Jets forward, and even then I’m not sure it’s a slam dunk).