Cole Perfetti has all the tools for a big breakout season

Jan 13, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Winnipeg Jets center Cole Perfetti (91) reacts at the face-off circle against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 13, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Winnipeg Jets center Cole Perfetti (91) reacts at the face-off circle against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Cole Perfetti is all substance and zero flash. He clearly has a sweet set of hands, but also possesses a subtlety to his excellence that can be hard to quantify.

No, he doesn’t have Patrik Laine’s booming shooting ability, nor Kyle Connor’s supreme agility and quickness. He certainly doesn’t have Nikolaj Ehlers’ game breaking speed, nor the release of Mark Scheifele or the size-speed combination of Blake Wheeler.

And he certainly doesn’t hit like Jacob Trouba used to.

But Perfetti has that thing that is so hard to teach, and so hard to instill.

It’s vision, hockey sense, spatial awareness. It’s manipulating the puck just an inch over to create a different seam, the perfect angle. It’s deciding where the puck is going before it comes to you, and firing creative one touch passes with precision.

The Winnipeg Jets haven’t quite had a player like this, ever. Most top Jets talent have skewed as goal scorers; Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, and Nik Ehlers. Ehlers is certainly a playmaker, but because of his skating and dynamic abilities. Not in a cerebral, Nicklas Backstrom kind of way, the way that Perfetti is.

And while Blake Wheeler was definitely a playmaker (his franchise record 71 assists should attest to that), he did it completely different than Perfetti will. With bull like speed and being the primary passer on a loaded power play.

I remember watching Alex Burmistrov as an 18 year old with the Thrashers. He possessed some of that vision and processing (though he was a better skater than Perfetti), but he was ultimately rushed to the NHL, and his attacking style was suppressed. As his creative instincts died, so too did his NHL career.

But Winnipeg didn’t do that with Perfetti. He was brought along patiently, soaking in two more years of development and physical maturity before sticking with the big squad. After demolishing the OHL, scoring 111 points in 61 games as a 17 year old, the Covid-caused age exception to the AHL allowed him to immediately take his vision and skill to be tested against men.

And after two abbreviated seasons in the minors, his AHL career wrapped up with 41 points in 49 games, elite numbers for a player who played most of his games before he turned 20.

So the kid is good.

But how good can he be?

Let’s dig in.

Cole Perfetti is already in an elite class when it comes to his age

The Winnipeg Jets have not had many under-21 year old forwards make their team and play most or all of the season.

That is especially true over the last five seasons, where Winnipeg has been in a win-now mode, and simultaneously has not selected in the areas of the draft where finding those types of players is probable. The leash for younger players to learn and make mistakes hasn’t been particularly long either.

And so, just by listing the names of current and former Jets who have accomplished that, we can see what type of floor and ceiling exists for Perfetti.

Here they are:

Patrik Laine, Nik Ehlers, Evander Kane, Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, and Alex Burmistrov.

So Perfetti has become the 8th player to do so for the Winnipeg Jets. And, as long as he doesn’t go the way of the Burmistrov, it seems he is already at worst scheduled to be a very good top six forward.

Just by looking at last season’s stats (8 goals, 30 points in 51 games), you can already conclude that. Pro-rated, that’s a 48 point pace, which is a reasonable outcome for any second liner in the league, let alone a 20 year old. In theory, he also could have raised that production rate as he continued to gain experience. When your career is only 69 games long, every game matters.

And when you’re just 20 years old and can produce points at that rate, that matters too. The younger you can make an impact in the NHL, the higher your floor and ceiling as a player tend to be, too.

That is certainly the case for Perfetti.

The tools, the talent, the skill, and the vision

What every fan, general manager, and scout loves to see is a young player breaking through and demanding that they play every day. Showing the team that you are better than some of the existing roster players – no matter who they are and what their age is.

That is what Cole Perfetti did last season.

Perfetti’s skill can simply not be denied. He has a unique vision about him, finding seams with pinpoint precision. He can handle the puck on a string, with incredible hands and a deft touch while passing. He can either fire a crisp pass through the offensive zone, or feather one into space for a teammate to skate onto. And he processes the game at such a level that he is capable of making one touch, clever passes than most can’t see. I wouldn’t say his shot is a strength, as I don’t think he projects to beat goaltenders clean from distance, but it is accurate, and as he matures as a man, that could increase his goal scoring totals over time.

Perfetti is also very patient and poised with the puck. These are rare traits for a player that young – a desire and knack for extending plays and allowing teammates to find open space – and then finding them. He makes up for mediocre athletic tools with an ability to process the game at a very high level.

Though he is neither big (he’s five foot eleven), nor fast (skating is likely the primary reason he was not a top five pick), Perfetti’s top tier hands and vision make up for it.

And with that, he was able to earn the trust of Rick Bowness early, averaging a shade under 15 minutes per game through the season. He was fifth in power play time among forwards, a number that could increase this season given the departures of Pierre-Luc Dubois and Blake Wheeler.

Really, that’s where Perfetti’s skills should shine most. Mediocre skating players with superb talent and processing tend to salivate when they get sent out on the power play, when time is abundant and size/strength is less of a benefit. In time, that left half wall spot should be Perfetti’s to lose – unless Bowness prefers Nik Ehlers as a shooting threat.

It will be exciting to see what Perfetti can do with another season of development and a summer of adding strength. He is without a doubt ready to take a step, and, as a player who lives and breathes hockey and craves performing in the big games, the pressure of a Canadian market should be no problem for him.

Perfetti’s ceiling is high, but comes with some serious what-ifs

We’ve spent a reasonable amount of time praising Perfetti, and with good reason. But for all of his talent and vision, he is not a perfect player.

Any fault, concern, or doubt with Perfetti comes down to the three S’s: size, skating, shot.

Perfetti is 5 foot 11. His skating and shot, at least to Corey Pronman of The Athletic, is below average.

Those are the areas where projecting Perfetti’s NHL career has some risk. Does he have the strength to work well along the wall at five-on-five? Does he have the skating ability to counter attack and play through the neutral zone? And can he find ways to improve his shot and become more of a dual threat rather than a clear pass first player?

These are the questions.

Lastly, Perfetti has only played 118 games over the past three seasons. Part of that is due to Covid, but part of that can be attributed to a young, smaller player who still needs to put on strength – yet takes plenty of contact due to his abilities to hold onto the puck and find plays. Durability, while not yet a true concern, is at least worthy of note.

With all the said, I still see Perfetti as an invaluable piece to the Winnipeg Jets current core, and yet another pick in the 7-13 range that Kevin Chevyldayoff has made good on. I’m sure you know who the other ones are.

Here’s my projections for his career:

Best-case scenario:  Franchise winger, a first power play point producer who scores around 25 goals and 80 points regularly

Likely scenario: Top line winger, a first power play point producer who scores 20 goals and 60-65 points

Worst case scenarioMiddle six winger, a power play specialist who scores 10-15 goals and 40-45 points

2023-24 stat line prediction: Assuming an 82 game season, Perfetti scores 18 goals and 57 points.