Coming off a brilliant year in the QMJHL where he finished 26th overall in league scoring (32nd if sorted by point-per-game), Francis Perron likely has the most offensive flair of the Senators five 2014 draft picks, despite being taken 190th overall.
Taken 6th overall in the 2012 QMJHL Entry Draft, Perron has always had the skill to be near the top of the league in point production. So much so, that the Senators QMJHL scout, Trent Mann, was surprised that he was still there in the 7th round. Thus, instead of the Senators deciding whether to pick local defenseman Kelly Summers or Perron with their lone pick, Bryan Murray and co. traded a 2015 6th rounder so that the team could pick both.
Mann touches on Perron's strengths: speed, vision, all-situations player. With the Senators recent focus on two-way players in order to adapt to the "new NHL," Perron's ability to penalty kill surely helped them feel more comfortable with this selection. His almost PPG pace in the playoffs likely helped, too. Interestingly, Mann touches on Perron's self-awareness as a sign of his character, stating:
The nice thing about Francis is that there were areas of his game, midway through the year, that he acknowledged that he needed to work on and those areas did get better. Better compete level, going to those dirty areas, and he did that in the second half of the season [becoming] a point-per-game guy in both the regular season and the playoffs.
For players who are so young, it can be hard, without proper support, to acknowledge flaws in your game. After all, you've been one of the best players in your age group your entire life, and especially as an offensive player, can generally rely on your skill to get yourself out of sticky situations. No one is going to complain about defensive play if you're putting up points, right? Unfortunately for these players, coaches are now hesitant to throw any player out there who can't play in the defensive zone, so being able to recognize this and make an improvement to get better as a 17 year old is something that will benefit Francis down the road.
Here's what Perron himself had to say about this from a Buzzing the Net profile back in his draft year:
"After Christmas, I felt my work ethic was more consistent from game to game," says Perron, who is NHL Central Scouting Service's 70th-ranked North American skater. "I was going in the corners more and winning more of my battles. Even though I'm not very big, I was finishing my checks."
"It's all in my head," Perron adds. "I have to be more confident in my work ethic ... This year I had a lot of ups and downs. I need to be more consistent in my work ethic. I also need to put on a little weight and go in the corners."
A really interesting tidbit from that article, which likely bodes well for Perron's future with the Senators given how much NHL coaches value this, is that he was coached by now Senators assistant coach André Tourigny in 2012-13, a year that Perron says helped grow his two-way game.
"My first year as a 16-year-old helped me a lot for getting ready for this year," Perron says. "I was used in more of a defensive role. I am an offensive player, so it was different for me. I was more reliable defensively and I played PK all year."
Enough about Perron's draft year: how did he do last year? Thanks to CHLStats, we can access some statistics other than points-per-game as a way to evaluate Perron's offensive performance. Perron finished 17th in the league (min. 40 games) with 3.94 shots per game, and according to location data, 50% of those shots would qualify as "dangerous," a number putting him at 27th in the league. We start to get a glimpse of his playmaking being his offensive strength when you compare it to his shot, as despite many skilled players finishing at a rate above 12%, Perron ranked 116th in the league with a 11.0% shooting percentage. His shot generation meant that he still scored 29 goals, although a little more than half came on the powerplay. With 14 goals, 13 primary assists, and 33 points, Perron's 0.52 PPG at even-strength drops him to 69th overall in the league, and since even-strength production is generally more translatable to the NHL, it'll be important for Perron to really try and improve in this area.
As interesting comparison is his teammate, Ryan Penny, who recently signed an AHL deal by the Binghamton Senators, likely thanks to viewings by the Senators coming to Rouyn-Noranda to watch Perron. What's interesting about Penny is that his production last year was nearly the opposite of Perron's, with 49 of his 70 points coming at even-strength - a 0.74 PPG total putting him at 23rd in the league. Penny is nearly two years older than Perron, which likely speaks to why he wasn't drafted as overagers generally put up better numbers against younger competition, but what this means is that there's more even-strength ice-time for Perron to utilize to improve his game in this area.
On the powerplay, Perron is something of a wizard, according to HockeyProspect:
Perron is very creative with the puck; his linemates have to be alert all the time as they can get the puck back when they don't expect it. When in possession of the puck, you can see him wait an extra second to find open teammates, making him tough to predict for the defence. Because of this creativity and playmaking ability, the Huskies used Perron on the point on the power play all year long, a rare case for a 17-year old in the QMJHL.
All in all, I'd say that Perron is an intriguing player and a good risk to take in the 7th round. He generates shots constantly, has great vision, possesses the hockey IQ to be deceptive with his goal creation, and can play in all situations. Importantly for the Senators, Perron has been able to keep up this level of performance in the playoffs and has shown character by being aware of the flaws in his game. To take the next step, Perron's even-strength production should improve, and he should work on his overall strength as he was a bit undersized when he was drafted (6'0, 163 lbs), especially since strength - not size - generally determines whether you can translate your offensive game to the next level. Perron has a fan in the organization in Sens assistant coach André Tourigny, but will be expected to be dominant in the QMJHL again before he's offered a contract. Here's hoping he makes it.
Thanks for reading!