Cole Perfetti didn't have to make one of those calls parents dread receiving from their kids.

Cole Perfetti didn't have to make one of those calls parents dread receiving from their kids.

He didn't mangle the car fender, fail a math exam or get axed from a part-time job because he was late again. Nope, the Winnipeg rookie's call home to his folks was all good.

And it came on the heels of some welcome news from Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice, who summoned Perfetti for a one-on-one chat near the blue line at the tail end of practice.

"He said when I get off the ice, go call my parents cause I’m playing (Wednesday) night," the grinning teen told reporters. "It was a good conversation. It was pretty special to hear that. I’m just super excited and I can’t wait to get there and make that dream come true."

Perfetti and the rest of the Jets jumped on a plane bound for Anaheim for their 2021-22 NHL regular-season opener against the Ducks. Game time is 9 p.m. CT (SN360).

Perfetti, who turns 20 on New Year's Day, was a noticeable bright spot during the Central Division squad's training camp, playing both centre and wing.

He'll skate on the right side with centre Adam Lowry and Jansen Harkins against the Ducks.

"It’s only a start. There’s a long season ahead, so to make it on Day 1, it’s pretty cool," said the Whitby, Ont., product, who was selected 10th overall by Winnipeg in the 2020 NHL Draft. "Dream come true and something I worked for all summer, kind of focused on (Wednesday) night as a goal of mine. To be able to achieve that, it’s pretty special and it makes me feel pretty good. Just looking forward to it and excited for my first NHL road trip."

Perfetti was able to reach his dad, Angelo, for a quick but emotional conversation.

"My dad was pretty happy. My mom (Sandra) wasn’t on the phone and I couldn’t get a hold of her, so I just texted her before I came in here. My parents are huge supporters. They worked so hard to get me where I am today and my dad almost started crying on the phone," he said. "It’s a special day, it’s a whole family thing. Everyone put the effort in, not just myself, there were a lot of people behind the scenes that got me here.

"They’re just excited and so happy. My dad said, ‘OK, I’m going to look at flights’ and hung up the phone. I think he’s working on that right now."

There's no telling, however, just how long Perfetti will remain in the lineup.

Cards fell into place for his debut against the Ducks. Top-line centre Mark Scheifele will serve the final game of a four-game suspension he received during the playoffs in early June, opening a spot for veteran Paul Stastny to fill between Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor. Perfetti assumes Stastny's spot on the third trio.

When Scheifele returns Saturday in San Jose, there's a chance Perfetti could drop to the fourth line or simply watch from the press box.

But for now, he's in.

"As the (pre-season) games got more sorted and he played with different players, it looked – easier is not the right word – but he could make plays under pressure, and he may end up being one of those players that can make more plays (in the NHL) early on," said Maurice. "He’s got a whole bunch he’s gotta learn. I’m not saying this is for the whole year, but for opening night with (Scheifele) out, there’s a certain skill level that you wanna have in your lineup, and I thought he had a good camp.

"He was kind of (among) maybe one or two of the things I liked that came out of that last Calgary game. There were some defensive things but I’m not worried about that. That’s my job to teach him. But there was some offensive things that nobody teaches anybody... "

Perfetti was actually one of the few young players that actually benefitted from Canadian junior leagues shutting down, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic last season. Instead of returning to the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario league, the Jets organization received permission to assign him to the Manitoba Moose, their American Hockey League affiliate.

The smart, shifty forward showed he could excel at the pro game, suiting up for 32 games and registering nine goals and 26 points.

"That was huge for me. There were a lot of kids that missed out on hockey and I was pretty fortunate and one of the lucky ones to have an opportunity to actually further my development, play against men and take a big step forward," said Perfetti, listed at 5-11, 177 pounds. "Those 32 games I played last year were huge for me, just to experience the pro style, the speed, the physicality and all that kind of stuff that the pro game brings.

"Just to get that experience before I head into my first NHL camp, it just made me feel a lot more comfortable, a lot of confidence. It was a big year for me."

Riding shotgun to Perfetti during a meeting with the press was all-star goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who begins a hectic campaign between the pipes Wednesday.

He didn't mind getting only a sliver of the attention.

"It's just an exciting time. I remember when I was making my first call to my parents. I hear him talk about it and it brings back all these memories," said Hellebuyck. "It is an exciting time so I just say ‘Enjoy the butterflies and enjoy the entire process of it.’"

While the Colorado Avalanche have been pegged as chart-toppers in the Central, many pundits eye Winnipeg as the next in line.

Hellebuyck gives the squad all-world netminding, a defensive group has been significantly bolstered with the additions of Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon, and a forward group that includes the electrifying Nikolaj Ehlers, as well as Scheifele and Kyle Connor should have few difficulties generating offence.

The window to win, as they say, is wide open.

"I’m excited. We’ve had a great camp and we’ve been meshing very well and very quickly. Everyone knows what the expectations are now and now that we’re one day away, everyone has got the mindset that we’re trying to take a run," said Hellebuyck. "This is a Stanley Cup-calibre team and we’re going to do our best to put our best foot forward."

"I’ve been saying for years that we have a lot of talent on this team. Now, we’ve got the experience, we’re running out of time and we all want to do it now. There’s no more tomorrow for us, it’s all about the work we’ve put in and now we’re trying to put our best foot forward every single day."

As of late Tuesday, the Jets still hadn’t announced the signing of Evgeny Svechnikov. But the Russian-born winger skated on the fourth line during drills Tuesday and could still be in the lineup against the Ducks.

Dominic Toninato might also get recalled and dress as well. 

Winnipeg could go with 11 forwards and seven defenceman, although Maurice said over the weekend he’s not a proponent of the plan.

 

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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