Cole Perfetti has come up with different ways to stay sane as he patiently waits to chase his dream of playing in the NHL.
Perfetti, selected by the Winnipeg Jets 10th overall in the 2020 NHL draft, has been holed up in a hotel room since Sunday as part of the league’s COVID-19 protocols. He still needs to submit four negative tests for the coronavirus, which take place on day one, three, five and seven, meaning he won’t be able to join his teammates on the ice until Monday, at the earliest.
Fresh off winning a silver medal with Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton over the holidays — another event that required him to quarantine — Perfetti had to hunker down once again when he returned home to Whitby, Ont., for a few days, which included celebrating his 19th birthday on New Year’s Day.
Needless to say, he has become a bit of an expert when it comes to killing time — a skill that has served him well this week.
"A lot of it’s face-timing, whether it’s friends, family. That’s pretty big, just to keep in touch with everyone. I brought my PlayStation, so I’ve been able to play video games with the guys back home and still kind of, essentially, hang out with them over the internet, which is good," Perfetti told reporters during a Zoom interview from his hotel room. "I’ve been able to cook my own food in here, got a nice little kitchenette. So that kills a couple hours of the day and that’s always nice to have your own meals. That’s kind of been keeping me sane."
Though eager to hit the ice and begin what he hopes will be the start of a long NHL career, Perfetti has taken a realistic approach to the 2021 season. He knows with everyone working under a global health pandemic, business in the NHL won’t exactly be status quo.
But that hasn’t stopped Perfetti from wanting the Jets to make a tough decision on him this year. And having played a number of competitive hockey games in recent weeks, as well as going through various exercises in his hotel room set up by the Jets’ strength and conditioning coach, he also hasn’t limited his ceiling for this season.
"Quite frankly, I’m not too sure what’s going to happen, where I’m going to end up or where I’m going to play. Wherever I am just play my best and do what I can to stay at the highest level. My goal is to play as many games in the NHL as possible," Perfetti said. "Making the NHL as an 18-year-old is extremely hard. Not a lot of players do it. I want to play for the Jets as fast as possible. But if it’s only a couple games this year or if it’s no games, I’ll be happy with whatever they think is right for me."
There are a number of playing options for Perfetti this season. While it’s considered a long shot he’ll spend the year with the Jets, it’s certainly not out of the question. Perfetti can play six NHL games before burning a full year of his three-year entry-level contract.
Then there’s the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, something that in a normal year wouldn’t be made available for someone like Perfetti because of his age and the fact he plays in the Ontario Hockey League. Usually, players in the Canadian Hockey League — which includes the OHL, Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — are not eligible to play in the AHL until they’re 20 years old.
A new rule owing to COVID-19 was recently put in place that permits CHL players like Perfetti the chance to play in the AHL this year — and not burn a year of his deal with the Jets. That’s because the CHL remains in limbo for the 2021 season, still trying to figure out how to run a season safely under various provincial health protocols.
Last week, the WHL announced a commitment to a 24-game regular season but the league is waiting on health officials to give the all clear to announce a start date. The OHL, where Perfetti stars with the Saginaw Spirit, scoring 37 goals and 74 assists for 111 points in just 61 games in 2019-20, and the QMJHL are still planning to complete a season in 2021 but haven’t formally announced their plans. The QMJHL was the only league to kick off a 2020-21 campaign but were forced to suspend play Dec. 1.
As for the AHL, 28 of 31 teams have committed to play in 2021, with a regular season made up of five divisions and a start date of Feb. 5. Details on schedule formats and playoffs are still being worked out. The Moose are expected to play in an All-Canadian division, with games against only Toronto, Laval and Belleville.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice isn’t in a position yet to declare where he plans to play Perfetti, as he’s yet to see him on the ice for a proper evaluation. But there is a plan, built on one primary focus: he plays a lot this year.
"The option is he starts with us and then he’s assigned to either the taxi squad or the American Hockey League," Maurice said. "We’ll just want him playing at the highest level that’s possible for him to play at. But playing, that’s the key piece, getting him into games."
The current NHL landscape, though hampered by the coronavirus, favours Perfetti. Maurice said unlike 20 years ago when rookies needed to put on weight in order to compete in what was a physically demanding league, the NHL is now better catered to smaller and skilled athletes.
Perfetti would still benefit from some added weight — he’s 5-10 and 185 pounds — but he has the kind of hands and hockey IQ that is difficult to teach. That was on full display during the World Juniors with Perfetti finishing in the top-20 scoring with six points (two goals, four assists) in seven games.
"The way the game has changed, the style of hockey that’s played allows these guys to come in and play at a much, much younger age. It allows them to be physically slighter and still survive. Skating is a premium for these guys but you don’t have to be a big man at a young age and produce in the NHL anymore. That’s the big one," Maurice said.
"What changed with that is how the room integrates a young player. Young players had a far more challenging time 20 years ago, fitting in. They had to earn their stripes, they weren’t allowed in the trainer room. There were no massages for those guys. They were back of the bus, last on the elevator, all those things. It was much more difficult. Now, there’s so many young kids that are coming in, it’s pretty normal for these guys now."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.