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Top 25 Under 25, #8: Francis Perron

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Despite a rough first pro season, Perron’s still trending upward

2014 NHL Draft portrait of Francis Perron
This time next year, I expect we should have some action shots of Francis Perron.

No. 8: Francis Perron (Reader rank: 13, Last year: 9)

Francis Perron’s first rookie season wasn’t what was hoped, and I think even Perron would admit as much. He’s already exceeded the expectations that come with being a seventh-round pick, but Sens management probably hoped for more.

In 68 games with the Binghamton Senators last season, Perron notched six goals and 20 assists, putting him 11th on the team in offensive production despite pretty easy minutes. The image below, from @Ziggy_14, illustrates Perron’s first pro season nicely:

Visualization of Francis Perron’s offensive production for 2016-17.

Things looked good in Perron’s first AHL game, when he scored two assists in a 3-0 win over the Hershey Bears, but he seemed to struggle with consistency through the season. He didn’t score a single goal after January 21—a 31-game goalless drought to end the season—and went extended stretches without points, including a nine-game pointless streak late in 2016 and a six-game pointless streak to end the season.

As Colin shared on Twitter some time ago, Perron’s season was really boosted by a February surge where he scored seven assists in six games:

Rolling 10-game P/GP average for Francis Perron

In March, Perron was interviewed for the Sens’ website about the biggest adjustment he had to make in the AHL, and—not surprisingly—he said the lack of time and space took some getting used to:

Obviously, I'm not a big guy so it was a big adjustment for me. I'd also say my time to react on the ice. In junior, I had a lot of time and space and I could do my thing and make plays but in the pros you don't have a lot of time with the puck and you have to know what to do with the puck even before you have it. It's different but I think I've learned a lot and at first it wasn't easy. The ice time wasn't always there but over the year I've learned a lot. I feel better, my confidence is better so I think it's all in your head. When your confidence is there you can make plays and just do your thing.

This is normal for young players. Some step in and find their way immediately, but most struggle for a year or two (or three). Perron’s struggles last season are clear. But Perron’s arc so far remains similar to that of someone he has drawn past comparisons to, even before this past season: Mike Hoffman. In many ways, Perron’s career has mirrored Hoffman’s, including a gradual rise to dominance in the QMJHL followed by a very tough first pro year (Hoffman put up 7G and 18A in 74GP with Binghamton in his rookie season, and even played a few games in the ECHL). But things ended up okay for Hoffman.

As an undersized player at draft time, Perron was acknowledged as a long-term prospect with great upside, and that upside remains. The skill Perron possesses is rare, and with another summer to build size it looks like he should be given a much more prominent role in the Belleville Senators’ inaugural season—potentially slotting on the team’s top line. I’d expect him to make his NHL debut this season, too, depending on how injuries shake out over the course of the year.

If it works out like that, Perron’s development curve would fit in well with the Senators’ long-term plan. Right now, Ottawa’s most offensively-oriented left wingers are the aforementioned Hoffman and Clarke MacArthur. Mac is probably on the tail-end of fitting in that category, and Ryan Dzingel might come into the conversation this season, but—barring a major acquisition—there will be opportunities for Perron in the coming years.

Although the best case scenario for Perron would be to turn heads and make the big club out of camp this year, that’s unlikely; a more reasonable (but still quite optimistic) one would be for a solid 2017-18 season in the AHL followed by regular NHL duty at some point in 2018-19.