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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Perreault bringing big speed

Plus skill and energy

Posted: 07/2/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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MATHIEU PERREAULT certainly isn't the last piece to the puzzle that is the Winnipeg Jets. Nor is he one of the vital corner pieces that are so critical in helping shape things.

But if NHL free agency is partly about filling holes on the depth chart -- at any cost to some teams, it would seem -- then the 26-year-old centre is a solid fix for the Jets.

Looking to replace veteran Olli Jokinen down the middle, the Jets inked Perreault to a three-year deal worth $9 million on the first day of NHL free agency.

"It's a great fit for me," said Perreault in a conference call on Tuesday. "I talked to (Jets' coach) Paul Maurice earlier today. They want to change a little bit, they want to put on three lines that can score every night.

"I can bring a lot of speed. Winnipeg has always been a team about speed. It's a part of my game that I like to use. I'm a smart player, I can produce, I can play a little bit of power play."

Perreault, a Drummondville, Que., product, had 18 goals and 43 points for the Anaheim Ducks last season. But with the Ducks adding Ryan Kesler and Nate Thompson, both centres, in trades in the last week, Perreault's spot in their lineup became iffy and the team chose not to make him a qualifying offer.

Interestingly, Perreault and Jokinen had the exact same numbers last year, although Perreault put up those totals in 69 games, Jokinen in 82. But age is also a factor -- Jokinen is nine years older -- Perreault had better possession stats and led the Ducks last season with a faceoff percentage of 52.6.

On the other side, Perreault is 5-10, 175 pounds, while Jokinen measures 6-3, 215, and size can't be underestimated in the Western Conference, where they grow them big down the middle.

The Jets will now line up Bryan Little (5-11, 185), Mark Scheifele (6-2, 184), Perreault and Jim Slater (6-0, 200) at centre.

"Last year the role I had in Anaheim, I think it's going to be pretty similar in Winnipeg," said Perreault. "You guys already have Bryan Little on your top line and the kid, (Mark) Scheifele, as a bigger guy that can do that role of a bigger centre. And then you bring in me, who can bring in speed, energy and skill as well. I think it's going to be a great fit for me... especially after the trades (Anaheim) made for (Ryan) Kesler and (Nate) Thompson. They didn't really have much space left for me in the middle in Anaheim, so it was a good move for them to release me. I'd have a chance to go somewhere else and play more minutes."

Jets' GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said Tuesday the club identified Perreault as a possible addition when it became clear he was no longer in the Ducks' plans. Maurice also spoke to Perreault before he signed about his possible role here. That and a tidy raise -- from $1.1 million to $3 million -- helped seal the deal.

"I'm an energy guy who likes to bring speed and you put me in the right spot with the right players and I feel like I can produce," said Perreault. "Hopefully I'll get that chance in Winnipeg and after talking with Paul Maurice I think I'll have a great chance to be with a guy like Evander Kane, a young, really fast good player. It's a really good thing for me if I end up playing with guys like that.

"At 26 years old, with what I've been through, I feel like I'm on top of my game right now. I feel I can come in and really help the team. The Jets are now a team that can compete and make the playoffs. They were close last year. They were close for a couple of years. With Paul Maurice and the new guys coming, we're going to have a team that can compete and make the playoffs."

The other factor in making this work -- besides opportunity and money -- is this: After playing in Washington and California, Perreault now gets the chance to come back to the Great White North.

And that's always part of the Jets' sales pitch.

"It's a hockey city and for me, being from Canada, you always dream to play for a Canadian team. For me, coming to Winnipeg, I couldn't be happier," said Perreault.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2014 C1

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