When we look back at the 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, we think of two players primarily. The first of which was Russian star netminder, Yaroslav Askarov, who was the backbone for a gold medal finish. The second was a player who he defeated in that final in Team Canada forward Cole Perfetti. There were so many moments at the tournament where the Canadian forward seemed to take on the challenge of producing on the biggest stage. From opening the scoring in Canada’s opening game to scoring two goals in regulation and following it up with three (3!) goals in the shootout to send Canada to the championship game, Cole Perfetti was an absolute stud. He led the tournament in scoring with 12 points in 5 games. Needless to say, his draft year had started with a bang.
His OHL season started with a new moniker, “Goal Perfetti”. The Hlinka-Gretzky star was coming off one of the hottest goal-scoring runs of his career and couldn’t seem to find the back of the net to begin his year in Saginaw. With only seven goals in his first 21 games, Perfetti’s year hadn’t started the way he’d expected but he remained near the top of the leagues scoring despite the struggle to find the back of the net thanks in part to his playmaking talent. His ability to be an offensive play driver was impressive. He was consistently the offensive catalyst for the Spirit and piled up the assists. Perfetti finished the season second in OHL scoring with 111 points in 61 games. He finished behind Marco Rossi (120 points) in total scoring and he was tied with Quinton Byfield for fifth in the league for points-per-game with 1.82.
Perfetti is one of the drafts top offensive players. He has the ability to slow the pace of play down. Controlling the game when the puck is on his stick is a strength and he has a knack for appearing out of nowhere to make his mark when the puck isn’t on his stick. How does the undersized forward tilt the scales offensively? Does he have a shot at playing center long-term or is he better-suited om the wing? Is the concern for his skating warranted or is it overblown? There are a lot of questions surrounding the Canadian Hlinka stars game.
Skating and Mobility
Let’s get this out of the way right away. Perfetti is not the most fluid skater. His stride is wonky at times, often seeming like he over shifts his weight on each stride and not really getting the bend in his legs that you’d see in a technically skilled skater. His knee and ankle flexion aren’t where it needs to be. When in a loose puck foot race, Perfetti isn’t going to be the player that you’d bet on to win it. In the clip below, we see Perfetti disrupt the breakout at the offensive blueline. The puck is sent into the corner and Perfetti has a clear opportunity to win the puck race but fails to take advantage. He has a bit of a waddle to his stride at times.
Perfetti is an interesting player to study in this area of the game. His off-puck movement and mobility are lackluster. Perfetti is at times limited in his play away from the puck because of his skating. He doesn’t utilize his edges all that well and often glides in big looping paths. He can break up passes at times but recovering the puck is a struggle. In the following video, Perfetti does exactly that. He breaks up a pass in the neutral zone but fails to recover it. As the puck is worked back into the Saginaw zone, Perfetti’s glide and slightly awkward weight distribution as he tracks back into the defensive zone.
While the concerns with Perfetti’s movement without the puck are valid and will need to improve to be successful at the next level, his movement with the puck is much better. His skating stride can still be awkward at times but he is a completely different player when the puck is on his stick. His hands are impressive and he uses his edgework and agility much more effectively as the puck carrier. Due to the fact that he slows the pace down, his ankle and knee flexion are not as much of a concern because he is not a player who generally attacks with raw speed.
The young Canadian forward can show off his speed at times but doesn’t use it consistently. He protects the puck well and has the ability to flip a switch and find another gear. As you can see in the video below, Perfetti jumps onto the loose puck off the faceoff. He collects the puck in the defensive zone and then attacks the neutral zone. He drives his legs through his strides through the neutral zone. The Saginaw star protects the puck well, creating separation and staying elusive as he gets to the net. Plays like this show off the fact that when needed, he has the extra gear. Finding that gear more consistently or more often will be something that can make Perfetti a much more dangerous player.
The other factor that makes Perfetti a plus-mobility player is his intellect. He is always finding space and weaving through traffic in the offensive zone without the puck. He finds soft spots and defensive breakdowns as good as almost any player in this draft class. While we will get more into his offensive style of play a bit more later, highlighting this play below may give an idea as to how effective his thoughtful and deliberate movement throughout the offensive zone is. He moves with a purpose and doesn’t sit in a spot too often. This fluidity is important to a player who isn’t the most dynamic skater.
There are many players in this year’s draft that use their speed, skating and stick handling to push the puck up ice in this draft class. These players all generally push the pace of play. Perfetti isn’t a pace pushing player. Instead, he does the opposite and ramps the pace down and controls the play. Playing a patient and methodical offensive game is what makes Perfetti so dangerous. In transition, he is much the same style of player. He may not be the flashiest transition player but he drives transition at a very high rate. Perfetti generates 7.61 zone entries per-game which is a number that ranks ahead of players such as Marco Rossi (6.55), Seth Jarvis (5.80), Connor Zary (6.16), and Mavrick Bourque (7.08).
The effectiveness in transition doesn’t just apply in gaining the offensive zone. He is also surprisingly effective at generating defensive breakouts as well. Perfetti generates 4.90 zone exits per-game which again outpaces the likes of Rossi (4.23), Jarvis (3.75), and Zary (3.96) while just trailing Bourque (5.20). The interesting thing about Perfetti is that the strength of Perfetti’s breakout game comes from his passing ability. He exits the zone with passing more often than his peers, as can be seen in the chart below. Perfetti is an efficient and consistent threat to make a breakout pass, finding teammates up ice or bumping the puck into open ice for his teammates to skate into.
Perfetti’s transition game is reminiscent of a player like Toronto Maple Leafs captain, John Tavares. It is not often that the Leafs star is the puck carrier through the neutral zone, although capable due to his puck skills, rather he acts as a transitional bumper player. He is often the player who is providing an outlet and then laying a pass on the tape of a forward attacking the offensive blueline with momentum. His ability to act as the middle-man in transition and being an active member in breaking the puck out of the defensive zone bode well for his ability to affect the play at both ends of the ice.
The Whitby, Ontario native is an effective player through the neutral zone even though he does it a bit differently. His passing ability allows him to take his time, read the landscape, and make a play. As mentioned, Perfetti is the rare player who seems to be able to slow down the play and take advantage of his high-IQ. In transition, this oftentimes means that his passes are short and direct. He is capable of making the big, long bomb passes but elects to make short passes from the boards to a streaking forward or drawing in neutral zone defensive attention before providing a subtle outlet pass to clear the pressure.
Vision, Creativity and Play Driving
Despite Perfetti’s tendency to slow the game down, he is an excellent play driver and controls the game at times. Perfetti is agile and creates space for himself with his hands, allowing him to be a dangerous facilitator of the puck. Despite the nickname “Goal Perfetti”, his game took on a different form in the 2019-20 season. The consistently dangerous goal-scoring threat became a lethal passer. His creativity and hockey sense allows him to maneuver the offensive zone and find unique passing lanes to expedite the offense.
One of the key factors that allow for Perfetti to be a difference-maker is his ability to protect the puck. He is a different animal when the puck is on his stick, he is strong on his feet and holds the puck outside of the defensive players reach. Perfetti does a great job of working his way around the offensive zone to create passing lanes when his teammates are not. Below we see Perfetti circle the attacking zone. His ability to hold off his opposition while controlling the puck is impressive but it’s his head on a swivel that makes him dangerous here. He is constantly looking to find his teammates in open ice but isn’t finding it. When he finally does find a lane, he is able to put the puck to the front of the net but is unrewarded by his teammate.
Perfetti may need a couple of seasons to adjust to the NHL and his pace of play may need to ramp up a bit at times but one area of the game that Perfetti could have an impact on early in his career is the powerplay. The eagle-eyed playmaker sees the ice so well that it is almost unfair to the opposition at times. He is capable of playing in multiple positions and rotating in and out of them with his teammates, acting as a chameleon with the man advantage. This positional versatility leads to a fluidity on the powerplay that makes it difficult for more stagnant penalty killers to defend. Perfetti’s movement in-zone allows him to read the levels of the defense and pick apart the holes as he does in the video below. Perfetti collects the puck on the half-wall and then makes the switch down low. Upon receiving the return pass, he spots the man at the high slot which leads to another pass and goal.
Coming into the year, goal-scoring was the strength of his game. By the time his year was over, it was one of his strengths. Diversifying his offensive game was what many scouts and analysts had hoped for with Perfetti but he remains one of the best scorers in the draft. He has the ability to score from all over the offensive zone but understands that to be more efficient and effective, getting into the dangerous areas of the zone is integral.
When analyzing Perfetti’s ability to find the back of the net, it would be irresponsible if we didn’t start by looking at his shot. Simply put, it’s deadly. Perfetti combines a quick release from different angles and pinpoint accuracy. He shots from a variety of different angles, altering the puck position and stick blade right before taking a shot. The nearly unanimous top-10 ranked player doesn’t need a ton of space to shoot the puck from. As we continue looking at video, Perfetti is able to create space with stick handling. He pulls the puck back from stick checks multiple times and then fires a snap shot that would have beat many NHL goalies.
Pertaining to his in-zone movement, as alluded to above, Perfetti is a stalking offensive player. He seems to be on the prowl when he doesn’t have the puck. Weaving through traffic and identifying how to work around the defensive structure, his timing is impeccable when it comes to popping out at just the right time. He often sneaks by opponents and beats them to loose pucks in front of the net or outworks opposing rear guards for rebounds. In the video below, we see Perfetti’s hands on display at a couple of different points. He does an excellent job of showing determination in getting the puck back and keeping it into the zone. When he eventually gets the puck in the net-front, he is able to curl a bit, altering the angle slightly before firing a lethally accurate shot past the netminder.
Perfetti is also a crafty goal scorer. He is able to find space for himself using his edgework and agility in collaboration with his stickhandling. The OHL’s second-leading scorer was a threat to score all over the ice and did so in a variety of ways. From shooting the puck from distance or dangling defenders, Perfetti has the goalscorers touch as we can see from the following highlight-reel goal from the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup. While his first 21 contests only featured Perfetti in the goal column seven times, he was able to pot 30 goals in the 40 games after that.
This is an area of concern for Perfetti. The young OHL star showed effort at times and when he did he was able to be effective. The issue is that the effort was very inconsistent, even within a single shift. Perfetti is able to get his stick into lanes and he anticipates play well which leads to tipped passes or good reads when breaking up an offensive cycle. He lacks the burst in short spaces to make much of a difference, however, as he is often able to disrupt play but not squash it all together.
Perfetti often does a good job of putting in the effort on the defensive backcheck. He engages the player driving the offensive zone and stays with him through the faceoff circle. The issue is that once he wards off that one attacker, his effort recedes, and he never truly gathers himself defensively as he puck watches a bit and floats in a decent position. The inconsistent effort is reminiscent of many young players but the lack of quick burst will put Perfetti to the test at the next level, even if the acceleration improves a bit.
When playing center, Perfetti doesn’t track back into the defensive zone with consistency as you’d like your center to do. Even when he does get low in the zone, he doesn’t do much of engaging the puck carrier or battling below the goal line in aid of his defenseman. He is a better and more effective player when he is allowed to play anticipatory defense, high in the zone while he can apply pressure on defenders at the blueline. In combination with his sub-par skating, his defensive game will be a major reason that Perfetti is shifted to left-wing as he was for much of the latter half of the season when the Spirit acquired Hurricanes’ prospect Ryan Suzuki. Playing on the wing will provide him with a bit less responsibility in the defensive zone and cover up some of his skating issues.
While his in-zone defensive play leaves a lot to be desired, his neutral zone defensive play is surprisingly good. He is a bit of a pest in the middle of the ice, oftentimes forcing the puck to the wall and then battling for it. He uses his stick skills to pull pucks from piles and seems to come out of board battles with the puck more than expected of a player his size. In the next clip from our film study, Perfetti is a neutral zone nuisance. He battles for the puck around center ice and then works it into the offensive zone. Once he collects the loose puck in the attacking zone, he stops up and shows great vision by spotting the trailer on the play to generate a strong scoring chance. If he can do this a bit more often, he could be a strong transitional defender, specifically as a winger who can apply pressure.
Hlinka Hero to Top-10 Pick
Cole Perfetti is an interesting player to study. His offensive mind is clearly high-level and he has the ability to manipulate the opposition when on the attack. He was able to take his playmaking to the next level when he struggled to find the back of the net and then proceeded to fill the net from November to the end of the season. He sees through levels and has the skill to weave the puck through them. The young Canadian slows the game down and forces his opponents to stop his methodical play in an era when every other player seems to want to speed the game up.
‘Playmaker Perfetti’ showed how special he is as a player on a number of occasions this season and the World U18s may have been another chance for him to do it on the world stage as he did to start the year. Perfetti is a player who many wanted to see in the OHL playoffs, possibly leading his team on a Memorial Cup run. Scouts have said that they wanted to see if his ability to slow the game down continued as the quality of competition ramped up. Sadly, the opportunity never presented itself.
There is a real belief that Perfetti should be a top-10 pick. In many years, the young offensive dynamo could be a top-five prospect. There seems to be a log-jam of players in the four-to-ten range of this year’s draft and Perfetti finds himself squarely in that group. He likely profiles as a winger at the next level but he could be a productive forward who drives the offensive play from the wing. He plays with creativity and flair that often gets overlooked because of how calm he looks when the puck is on his stick. Cool as a cucumber, Perfetti shouldn’t have to wait long to hear his name on draft day.
Thank you for joining us for the latest Deep Dive for the 2020 NHL Draft, be sure to check out the Jake Sanderson and Jamie Drysdale Deep Dive. I also walked us through a thought experiment to explain why taking Quinton Byfield at #1 makes could make a ton of sense. Shot chart and statistics such as passing percentage and challenge rate courtesy of InStat Hockey, a top of the line video and scouting platform. For more from InStat, follow them on Twitter. For more on prospects and the NHL Draft, you can follow Tony Ferrari on Twitter.