Ottawa Senators Top 25 Under 25, #21: Francis Perron

The skilled playmaking forward from Laval enters his biggest season yet

21. Francis Perron (Reader Rank: 23, Last Year: 8)

Ranked by all but one of us in the 20s, Perron has had quite the fall from grace. Our eighth ranked prospect from last year, a combination of an injury-riddled season and the addition of other quality prospects has led to a significant drop in our rankings for a player who was once considered a can’t miss prospect.

Perron earned that status by improving his point totals with Rouyn-Noranda year after year, going from 18 points to 55 in his draft year, and then jumping to 76 points (64GP: 29G, 47A) in 2014-15. His 2015-16 season is up there as one of the best by a Sens prospect in recent memory, with Perron finishing second in the QMJHL in points-per-game (1.76) after a 108 point regular season and 33 points in 18 playoff games. Rouyn-Noranda won the QMJHL Championship, and Perron won both regular season and playoff MVP honours. San Jose’s Timo Meier and Philadelphia’s Philippe Myers are the two top prospects from that Huskies team, but it was Perron who led that group in scoring by nearly 30 points.

With a poor prospect cohort around him in the Sens system — only five of the 19 players drafted by the Senators between 2012 and 2014 will be making their appearance on our list at the time when they would’ve been expected to be entering their prime — there were high hopes for Perron (“the next Mike Hoffman”) as he started his pro career.

Peter’s T25U25 profile on Perron last season covered his struggle adjusting to the pro game nicely, and in simple terms, it can be summed up with the following: as a player who already needed to add some strength to his undersized frame, Perron was outmuscled and had trouble finding the time and space he did in junior. The jump from being a top scorer with consistency to suddenly needing to fight for every point is a difficult one, and understandably effected his confidence. He also wasn’t given much of an opportunity to rebound when things went south — a trend that continued in 2017-18 — and a bulk of his point production came in the last couple months of the season. Hence, we still viewed Perron highly, noting that he could have a strong season and potentially challenge for an NHL spot in 2018-19 where the Sens would have openings.

Well, the Sens have openings, and I don’t think Perron’s name has been mentioned once. By all accounts, he was challenged in his exit interview last year and had a strong offseason, training with fellow Quebecois’ Alex Burrows and Gabriel Gagné in Boisbrand — an hour away from his hometown of Laval. As reported in the Ottawa Sun last offseason, Perron gained almost 15 pounds and had great scores in the strength tests at Sens development camp.

Perron does see some good that emerged from the ashes, just as he understands the growing pains of being a first-year pro he had to endure. “It was different, obviously,” he said. “I got there and had a good start, then some guys were coming back from Ottawa, so I just moved down lines. Then I think the confidence wasn’t really there. I was not getting the ice time I expected. “I think it was good. At the end of the season, I took a step back and I looked at it, and I was like, I improved a lot, my defensive game. I was taking better decisions with the puck in the defensive zone. I was not producing a lot offensively, but I think it’s going to come with time. “This year I’ll probably be getting a bigger role, maybe an offensive role, so I think I improved a lot of things last year even though I didn’t produce a lot.”

Projected to at least get regular top-nine minutes, Perron found himself on line three or four with scarce powerplay time compared to Belleville’s veterans. His linemates, outside of a brief, productive period with Gabriel Gagné and Filip Chlapik, were barely AHL quality (Tyler Randell, Max Reinhart, Daniel Ciampini). Despite this, Perron managed 11 points through his first 22 games — a notable improvement over last seasons 0.38 points-per-game — but saw his play and ice-time drop off in December and January. Perron’s season ended with an injury on January 27th with 15 points in 44 games (4 points in his last 22 games) and we haven’t heard much from him since — including information on what the injury even was. He was a notable absence from development camp (alongside Andreas Englund, Macoy Erkamps, and Filip Ahl), especially because the Sens have had 22 year olds there before.

Peter Levi, who crunched some detailed numbers on Belleville’s season, had Perron spending 54.5% of his time on L3 and 27.3% of his time on L4, with a bulk of it coming during his slumping final two months. Despite having a ton of skill with great vision in space — a combination that would look great on, you know, a powerplay — Perron was the 12th most used forward and was actually played more on the penalty kill (8th) by the now-fired head coach, Kurt Kleinendorst.

This leaves us with a complicated picture going forward. Perron hasn’t produced to the level that’s to be expected as someone with his skill, but also hasn’t received the opportunity over other, less-skilled players. With Belleville’s forward ranks getting deeper with young talent this year (Luchuk, Brown, Batherson), Perron’s time may be up. However, I am hopeful that Troy Mann has a better idea of what he’s doing than Kurt Kleinendorst, but with similar assistant coaches and Perron entering in a similar (or worse) position as last year — third-line minutes — one can only hope that he may get some better linemates and an optimized special teams opportunity to showcase what he can do at the pro level.

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