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2020 NHL Draft Profile: Cole Perfetti

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Taking a look at one of the 2020 draft’s most prolific scorers.

Saginaw Spirit v London Knights Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

This is the seventh profile so far in our series on the 2020 NHL draft’s best players, and Cole Perfetti is the fourth to come from the OHL. It’s a strong year for one of North America’s top development leagues, and while he may be no Quinton Byfield, Perfetti deserves immense recognition as a potential game-breaking talent.

Cole Perfetti (C)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Saginaw Spirit OHL 5'10" 185 lbs 6 - 9 #5 (NA)

Perfetti’s been heralded as a top prospect for a while, going back to 2017-18 where he led the GTHL’s U16 league in scoring by a 36-point margin. He burst into the OHL the following year, leading all rookies in scoring with 74 points in 63 games, the most by a D-1 player since Alex DeBrincat in 2014-15. He spent a lot of the time playing next to top prospect Owen Tippett, however, so there was still a dash of skepticism.

The moment where Perfetti really caught the eyes of scouts was at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he tore apart the five-game tournament leading everyone with eight goals and twelve points. It was a hero’s performance, even scoring three goals in a single shootout against Sweden in the semifinal. Canada lost to Russia in the finals, but everyone’s eyes were on ‘Goal Perfetti’, excited to see how he’d fare in his draft year.

Spoiler: he delivered. Now he’s already a league superstar, ranking second in scoring behind Marco Rossi and tied with Byfield in points-per-game (1.82). Without Tippett on his side, he led the Saginaw Spirit to the top of their division. And when Saginaw traded for Nick Suzuki at the trade deadline, it only helped bring out the best parts of Perfetti’s game. As a 17/18-year-old he completely decimated the competition. He was one of the final cuts for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, but it didn’t slow him down one bit.

How did this happen? Let’s take a look at Perfetti’s game.

Scouting Report

While his nickname may paint him as a pure goal-scorer, and his 2018-19 season was certainly geared that way, Perfetti has done everything in his might to become one of the draft’s best dual-threat players for both goal-scoring and playmaking, along the likes of many of the draft class’ top players. He’s a very smart player, which is something that I’m sure will come up a few times this report.

As a playmaker, Perfetti finds passing lanes that seem invisible until he makes it work. He has the vision to think three steps ahead of the competition, and the offensive creativity to create chances out of thin air. His lower body mobility allows him to pivot on a dime and evade checkers to create space for himself. His stickhandling is in contention for the best in the draft class — not only is he a flashy player, but he stickhandles with so much confidence and poise that’s very rare for a prospect of his age and stature.

That confidence is also carried into his goal-scoring ability. Like his passing, he can get a wrist shot off from nearly any position and with incredible power. He shoots a lot too, as we’ll see more clearly in the data section, but his versatility of shot selection makes him a threat at all times. Whether it be a backhander in tight or a one-timer from the top of the circle, there’s a refinement to his shot that even some of the draft class’ top snipers don’t quite possess.

You’ll be more likely to find Perfetti as the second passer in zone transitions rather than the first, as his vision is really best displayed when he’s in the offensive zone. He’s not the fastest skater, but his mobility on his edges makes him a very mobile player when searching for passing options or a shot on net. I was impressed very frequently at his ability to cut through defenders while maintaining complete control of the puck.

Ultimately, it’s Perfetti’s sheer versatility and smart selection of options that makes him a special offensive player. It’s reflected in Perfetti as a person too, a top student who was named the CHL’s Scholastic Player of the Year. Everyone around him praises his drive and dedication to becoming a better player. There’s certainly more to work on in his game, but he has the raw tools to be a high-scoring first-line forward in the NHL.

The Data

Perfetti’s 111 points in 61 games this season is no small feat, and it shouldn’t be lost on us how prolific it was for a player his age. Take a look at Prashanth Iyer’s chart of scoring comparables, which puts him in the realm of John Tavares, Taylor Hall and Steven Stamkos.

Perfetti was the de facto leader of the Saginaw roster pre-Suzuki, playing most of his time next to overager Cole Coskey. His relative GF% of +18.29 was the very best in the OHL amongst forwards with 30+ games played — he tilted play whenever he hit the ice, no matter who he was playing with.

I mentioned earlier that Perfetti likes to shoot the puck a lot, which he certainly does, ranking 9th in the OHL in shots on goal last season. Per Mitch Brown’s tracking data, Perfetti generated 18.85 individual shot attempts per 60 minutes, third highest amongst draft-eligible OHLers behind Jacob Perreault and Will Cuylle.

In my profile of Jamie Drysdale I referred to the concept of expected primary assists (xA1), a model which weighs a player’s passes by the likelihood they lead directly to a goal. Of every player in Mitch’s database which comprises the OHL, QMJHL, WHL and USDP, only Guelph’s Cam Hillis generated more xA1 than Perfetti on a per-minute basis. His playmaking has paid off in spades, and if you combine that with extremely high generation of expected goals (fourth best in the database amongst draft-eligible players), the sky is the limit for his offensive potential.

Like Drysdale, Perfetti’s xA1/60 breaks the chart, at 3.14 standard deviations above average.

Even on the defensive side, Perfetti may not be the most prolific player in this area, but he still managed to lead Saginaw in allowing the least amount of shot attempts against per minute. He ensured that Saginaw had the puck so often that opposing teams just didn’t have the opportunities to score against him.

Drawbacks

Let’s talk about Perfetti’s skating. I haven’t mentioned it much thus far, and while everything I mentioned about his fantastic edgework and mobility stands true, this is the area that gives most scouts pause and puts him as the clear third fiddle behind Byfield and Rossi.

In terms of straight line speed, there’s a clear separation between Perfetti and some of his fellow OHLers like Perreault and Jean-Luc Foudy. He doesn’t have the explosiveness of someone like Byfield either, as his first few steps can be a bit awkward, making for ineffective acceleration.

None of this has held back Perfetti from performing his magic to date, as once he gets in the offensive zone he has all the mobility he needs to deke and tear around defencemen. But whichever team drafts Perfetti will have to be a little more patient with his development — he won’t be in the NHL next year.

This also ties into to Perfetti’s backchecking, which he’s significantly less involved in than the forecheck. As a natural centre, Perfetti excels at lots of the usual tasks such as taking faceoffs and puck retrieval, but his lack of quickness as a two-way player has raised some questions of whether he’ll be better suited as a winger at the NHL level. I don’t have any concerns that a move to the wing would affect his offensive toolkit at all due to his versatility, but it’s certainly worth taking into account for his long-term projection.

He’s also a smaller player a 5’10” and 185 lbs, which holds him back from being a physical presence on the ice. But between his stickhandling, smarts, puck protection and overall sturdiness as a skater, he does a fantastic job of preventing himself from getting knocked off the puck.

When it comes to the top of the draft class, especially one where there’s a bunch of players with game-breaking levels of skill and smarts, it’s picky things like these that can make a difference between being taken 3rd and 12th. But as mentioned in his strengths, there’s a lot to love about his determination to fill in the gaps.

Conclusion

Whenever I’m reading about prospects and looking through draft lists, there are certain players that emphasize just how deep of a year it is, and to me, Perfetti is one of those players. 100-point CHLers are usually a lock for the top five in any given draft class, yet the OHL alone produced three of them in a shortened season.

For the Ottawa Senators, Perfetti could be a fantastic secondary option on landing an elite centreman if they can’t get their hands on Quinton Byfield. Franchise-altering skill is what their prospect pool needs most, and that’s exactly what Perfetti brings to the table.

While it may take a couple years to fully show what he can do in the NHL, the Senators are evidently in no rush with their rebuild. And if things continue down this path for Perfetti, the wait will be completely worth it.

Quotes

“There’s this thing that seems to happen with players who are labelled “smart” where, like those who are labelled as two-way players, their skill level doesn’t get the love it deserves. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Perfetti sees the game differently than everyone else in this class. He sees seams others don’t. He recognizes the way opposing defenders are reading the zone before the defenders even recognize what they’re seeing in that zone. And the more you watch him, the more so-called concerns of strength or speed begin to fade.”

— Scott Wheeler, The Athletic ($)

“Perfetti’s skating is one of the more controversial topics among scouts when it comes to this draft. He doesn’t have an elite top speed, but it’s my belief that there’s no obvious technical flaws holding him back from getting there. His technique is solid, and he’s got enough speed to blow past OHL defenders. With 2-3 more years of additional training from whoever drafts him, he could certainly add another gear or two. Just look at how Brayden Point’s game transformed with faster, more dynamic skating.”

— Alexander Taxman, Future Scope Hockey

“While [Perfetti] does not possess game breaking speed, he is still able to break down opposing defenses by being one step ahead of them. He is in his office working from the half wall, where he can survey the ice, and where his quick hands and quick feet bide him time to make plays. With the puck on his stick, he is a constant threat and it is rare to see him commit a turnover. Without the puck, he anticipates gaps, rebounds, and passes before they happen, and is not afraid to take a hit to make a play or score a goal; a necessary mindset for a smaller player should they want to succeed in the NHL.”

— Brock Otten, McKeen’s Hockey ($)

Highlights


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