It’s one thing to be told by others that you’re amongst the best in the league — it’s another thing to know yourself that you deserve to be in that company.
For Cole Perfetti, the confidence that he gained playing in the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup has translated into momentum that has him rocketing up the draft charts.
“Being able to produce and be a key guy on Team Canada on the world stage, obviously gives you a lot of confidence. I was scoring a lot of goals, being a playmaker, and being on a top line in Team Canada can really give you a lot of confidence,” Perfetti said. “It’s kind of a driving force — I went there not really knowing what to expect and I ended up playing pretty well. There was a lot of talk about my game from that tournament and so I’m using that as fuel.
“I think my name should be talked about, so I come out every night just trying to play the way that I did at that tournament. I say to myself that I should be one of the best and at that tournament I proved it, so day in and day out, in practice and games, I learned a lot from that tournament.”
It’s not as if Perfetti came out of nowhere, though, to earn an A-rating from NHL Central Scouting and slot in at No. 7 in Future Considerations’ Fall ranking for the 2020 NHL Draft.
He scored 37 goals and added 37 assists as a rookie for the Saginaw Spirit last season. He added eight goals and six assists in 16 playoff games as the Spirit made it to the conference final.
This year, he’s started strong with seven goals and 33 points in 20 games.
But it was in the semi-final game against Sweden at the Hlinka Gretzky that may prove to be a turning point. Perfetti not only scored two game-tying goals, but added three in the shootout to propel Canada to the finals.
His coach feels that confidence boost is invaluable.
“It was such a massive stage for a kid like that in that environment — and for him to take hold of it and have that Jonathan Toews moment was exciting for him and special for us,” explained Spirit head coach Chris Lazary. “As good as a player Cole is, he’s still a human being and confidence is everything. When you go through a tournament like that, you start believing that you are one of the best, even though everybody’s been telling you that.”
Perfetti has already been compared to Montreal Canadiens’ 2019 first-round pick Cole Caufield as being an offensively gifted, but smaller, player. He’s drawn comparisons to Pat Kane, too.
For Perfetti, he appreciates the recognition and relishes the extra attention it brings to him.
“It’s pretty ridiculous when you hear your name being compared to [Kane]. It’s something I never thought of growing up, but to have that type of comparison and even be in the same talk as those players, it’s a real honour,” Perfetti said. “There’s a lot of hard work that’s gone into it. I definitely think I deserve to be up there [on the list] but to be in consideration with those names, it’s crazy.
“We’re playing the game we know and love, but we’ve always wanted to be on those lists. It’s a lot of fun — it’s not added pressure per se, but it’s something you want to have. You want to have people looking at you every night; you want to have the scouts in the building; and the fans looking at you and watching you play. It’s just fun and an honour.”
His coach said he finds the comparisons amusing.
Not because they’re not apt, but because of how they run counter to the type of person Perfetti is.
“If you know anything about Cole, it’s that he’s just such a humble kid. He gets embarrassed when people talk about how good he is. He really does — he doesn’t like to hear how good he is,” Lazary added. “He wants to be the best; he has the desire to be the best; and all he’s trying to do each day is getting better. It’s flattering to hear that stuff, but Cole recognizes you have to perform. I think he wants to be Cole Perfetti and have people compare other players to him.”
The Whitby native credits his coach for trusting in him to play in high-leverage situations.
And he said he’s continually working on improving all aspects of his game to be a more valuable player.
“Over the last couple of years you’ve seen great two-way forwards get drafted high, so obviously I’m trying to evolve my game into that style,” Perfetti said. “I try to apply myself, whether I’m playing centre or the wing — it depends on the night, I’m trying to make sure I’m in my position, I’m aware in the defensive zone and not losing my guy, winning my stick battles in the d-zone. It’s definitely something I’m trying to change this year.
“I think I’m doing a good job, but there’s also lots of room for input. I’m definitely trying to improve that side of my game a lot.”
Perfetti also added that he is working on his skating.
“Some say my speed’s not the strongest — I think I’m pretty quick, but there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement and that’s one of my main focuses this year,” he added.
His coach said he agrees that Perfetti’s skating can improve, but points to another once-criticized prospect as inspiration in addition to point out some misconceptions about Perfetti’s stride.
“You look at Johnny Tavares — and I’m from Oshawa, I watched him play from 15 on — everybody would have said he struggled with skating. He’s a perfect example that if you do invest your time and you do get stronger, as you get older you can fix your stride,” Lazary explained. “Johnny I know does work on it every summer with a skating coach; Cole’s done the same. Obviously he’d like to be a big faster, but as he gets older and if you project him in the NHL, he will get faster, stronger, and he will fix his skating to be an elite part of his game.
“[Perfetti]’s not a bad skater — the one thing people don’t realize about Cole is that he changes speeds on purpose. A lot of times people ask ‘Why isn’t he skating fast?’ All he’s trying to do is get separation, so he can start cutting east-to-west. If you understand what he’s trying to do, then it makes more sense.”
Regardless of what happens on draft night, Perfetti’s embracing the pressure of his draft year and making the most out of it.
“I’m definitely aware scouts are in the building every night. Day in and day out, it’s nice knowing they’re there. You think about it,” he said. “But you don’t really look to try to find them, you just play your game and prove that your worthy. It’s a lot of fun having them in the building every night and it’s exciting.”