Cole Perfetti has been skating for a little over a week after completing his post-world junior quarantine and officially began training camp with the Manitoba Moose on Monday.
The Winnipeg Jets 2020 first-round draft pick (10th overall), who turned 19 on New Year’s Day, would normally not be eligible to train and play in the American Hockey League, but with his junior league — the OHL — not yet releasing plans for a potential season, this is his only option.
“The opportunity that I’m getting this year, to play pro hockey, I’m very fortunate for that,” Perfetti said. “I’m just grateful that this rule is in place and I’m allowed to play pro hockey. This is gonna prepare me best for my end goal of making the NHL.”
Ideally, the Jets would like their top prospect to be playing regularly with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL, but there are benefits to having him in Winnipeg, working with the organization’s coaches, as he begins his development into a pro player.
“I think this is great for him,” Moose coach Pascal Vincent said. “He’s understanding more, he’s learning about the language that we use and the components of our systems. He’s understanding the kind of practices we’re gonna run. He’s exposed to pro players. He had some battles today against bigger guys and I think it’s huge for him.”
Perfetti completed his quarantine last Monday and started skating with the other players in the organization who are destined to play with the Moose, assuming the AHL season indeed gets underway as scheduled on Feb. 5. The league has not yet released an official schedule.
“It was good to get my feet wet and dip my toes into what it’s like at a pro skate,” Perfetti said. “It was a small group last week and I think that was a good way to introduce myself and then the first day of real camp was good. There were a lot more guys on the ice, a lot more pace and intensity.”
Perfetti said right on Day 1 of training camp it was obvious that pro hockey is a different beast than junior.
“They use a lot of different terminology, but the thing that I noticed most was just the speed and the battles and the strength and the shooting,” he said. “It’s just another step up. The terminology they use — every team’s a bit different — but at the next level communication is so important. Making sure you’re on the same terms is crucial. There’s a lot of new language that I learned. Having a week of pro skates under my belt I feel happy with it and I’m getting more used to it every day.”
It’s clear the Jets just want to have Perfetti playing so he can develop into an NHL player more quickly. Junior is the best-case scenario, but he could also play in the five-team Canadian division of the AHL without burning a year of his entry-level contract.
Either way, the hope is he will benefit from being around his future Jets teammates, including seasoned veterans like Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Paul Stastny and Trevor Lewis while he’s in Winnipeg.
“The development he gets from being here will give him some kind of a jumpstart for the following years,” Vincent said. “Obviously we’re trying to adjust and we’re excited to work with him, and we’ll see how it’s gonna go, but I think what he’s gaining right now is going to be helpful for his training next year.”
Perfetti scored 37 goals and 111 points to finish second in OHL scoring last season while with Saginaw.
He had two goals and six points in seven games with Team Canada at the world junior this year and took home a silver medal.
He certainly seems confident that he can make the NHL quickly and a busy schedule with the Moose should help.
“Playing a year of pro is gonna be extremely beneficial and helpful in my development,” he said. “I want to go out and play very well and produce, but it’s also learning the pro lifestyle and adapting to the pro game and really setting myself up for a chance next year to make the Jets.
“I’m excited to get the games going, to play my first professional game.”