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Corey Perry still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve

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His legs may not beguile anyone, but there’s still some magic in his hands.

Vancouver Canucks v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

I have to say I didn’t expect this kind of output from Corey Perry. I watched some of his games last season and, while he did end up on the top two lines and it suggested some level of effectiveness, the footspeed scared me. The rapid stop-and-start of the playoffs pushed him to his limit. A depth or substitute role with the Montreal Canadiens felt like the right chair for him. He could come in, help the team in a pinch or against specific matchups, and not get too exposed.

Now, after watching him closely these past four games, my opinion has done an abrupt 180-degree turn. I want more of Perry, as much as the Habs can use him and as much as he can handle. In fact, if he can maintain this level of performance on the third-line, he brings more to the unit than Joel Armia. And I say that as a fan of the long-limbed penalty-killing master.

Perry has similar strengths to Armia (albeit not as refined) while also bringing other elements that the Finnish winger doesn’t possess and will likely never develop. Things like off-puck positioning, awareness, and deception.

If you give the puck to Armia, there is a good chance that it ends up in the middle of a battle along the boards. If you give it Perry, you probably get it back in a better position. Considering the linemates he currently plays with — a young, improving but still not fully stable Jesperi Kotkaniemi and a pure open-space hunter in Tyler Toffoli — Perry’s ability to connect plays and keep the puck away from the boards and in control of the team is extremely valuable. In the long run, it leads to more puck touches for everyone. It allows the line to get in a rhythm and create more scoring chances.

The poise and confidence of Perry are the marks of the veteran who has seen all on-ice situations a hundred times in his career. Nothing truly fazes him. He just knows how plays unfold, when he has to hurry a pass before a lane closes, and when he can hold the disc.

He recognizes when he has the upper-hand on a defender and how to leverage his already good position into a greater one. The best example of that? The dangle he pulled on a Vancouver defender a week ago. (You can see it in motion in the video below.)

Many would shoot in that situation or at least get the puck to the net. But Perry catches the cross-ice pass from Toffoli in his hip pocket and makes the opponent pay for overextending by sliding the puck under his stick and catching it the other way to fire near the blue paint.

Perry used the same puck positioning, the same deceptive stance, to prepare many of his passes in his four games with the Habs. He kept defenders guessing by focusing his eyes on the net or on another point of the ice, held the puck until his true target got in position, and then slid it over.

There is also the speed of his execution. Perry’s feet might not move all that fast, but he processes the game quickly, working give-and-gos by anticipating the formation of pockets of space both for his teammates and himself.

The first two clips in the video above illustrate that well. In the first one, Perry acts as a puck relay for Kotkaniemi. The winger, standing on the boards, opens up his body and bounces the disc in front of his teammate breaking free in the middle of the neutral-zone, creating a two-on-one and yet another scoring chance for Toffoli.

In the next one, Perry steals the puck from an opponent, gains the offensive zone, and, as a defender commits to him, drops the puck back to his centreman. He jumps ahead of the opponent and pivots to receive an immediate return pass, then circles the net, again adopting his puck-at-the-hip position.

There is no option for him, but it doesn’t matter as Perry makes defenders think there are many. Without a single dribble or body adjustment, simply by holding his stance and turning his head to the slot, Perry opens up a path to the net and almost glides to the goalie.

There are many more clips in the video above. Not all of them are flashy plays, but they all show details that contribute to puck-possession: give-and-gos, puck-protection mechanics, clever skating routes to get open, the usage of wide rims to bypass the defence, etc. When it’s time to turn on the flash, Perry has no problem doing it.

Obviously, we are talking about a four-game sample size at the start of the season. Perry can take advantage of more opportunities right now and, at this stage, his lower skating pace doesn’t matter as much as defences haven’t figured themselves out. The grind of the season might also get hard for Perry; some of the mental energy used to fuel his plays might get redirected to his legs as he tries to keep up. And there is also the whole question of waivers and the salary cap; the veteran might lose his spot simply because the team can’t afford to have him play games.

However, from what we’ve seen so far, Perry looks like an acquisition that could prove not just useful, but key for the team. His playstyle should continue to mesh well with the young forwards. He could be a part of some of their big moments going forward.