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2020 NHL Draft Top Prospects: Cole Perfetti brings a calculated offensive game

Will the stars align for the Habs to strike gold in the Draft’s Cole mine for a second year in a row?

OHL: JAN 26 Saginaw Spirit at Ottawa 67’s Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cole Perfetti has been dominating the Ontario Hockey League from the get-go. After being selected fifth overall in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. Perfetti burst onto the scene with 74 points in 63 games and led all rookies in points. This season — although shortened — he excelled even more. His 111 points in 61 games was second in the league, beaten only by Austrian Marco Rossi.

His big improvement in the point column came thanks to an impressive increase in his number of assists. While the goals stayed put at 37 per year, the assist number doubled from 37 in his rookie season to 74 in his sophomore year.

Birthplace: Whitby, ON
Date of birth: January 1, 2002
Shoots: Left
Position: C/LW
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 185 lbs.
Team: Saginaw Spirit (OHL)

Two weeks ago, I wrote the report on Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov, a prospect who’s draft stock rose after a dominant performance in the 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup. Askarov was the top goalie of the tournament, and there is a case to be made that Perfetti was the best forward. Perfetti finished with a massive 12 points in five games, with eight of them being goals. Unfortunately, Askarov got the better of him in a final where Canada outshot Russia 37 to 13 and he had to settle for a silver medal.

Perfetti seems to be a guy who thrives in playoff formats. In his only other big tournament to date, the 2018 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge (WHC-17), he recorded seven assists, the most of any player. Could this be a sign of a future high-performer in the Stanley Cup playoffs, or is it just a mere coincidence?

He may not be the biggest or the fastest guy and his skating will never be a strength of his, but Perfetti puts up points wherever he goes. Despite being overlooked among those selected for the 2020 World Junior Championship, he is certainly not letting adversity stop him. After being cut from the pre-roster before the aforementioned tournament, Perfetti returned to Saginaw with a vengeance, putting up 27 points in the following 12 games.

Elite Prospects

But, if it isn’t size or speed, what traits make him a top-level prospect? What stands out first is his hockey sense. Cole sees the ice like few other players, and he’s able to use it to support plays and attack with anticipation, carving up opposing defences in the process. He is skilled enough to handle the puck until he discovers the appropriate play for the situation. Perfetti’s vision makes him a great evaluator and he sees every option, even those that are not yet open to the naked eye.

His accuracy and handling, combined with a great sense for positioning himself in the accurate spot to be left open, are keys to his high draft status. I thought about comparing him to Trevor Zegras, who went ninth overall to the Anaheim Ducks last year, but Zegras was, and is, a playmaker-only kind of player while Perfetti is a considerably better finisher.

This is what makes him so difficult to defend. It’s hard to know what he is going to do in any given situation, since he can beat his opponent with both playmaking and scoring. His deceptiveness manipulates defenders into becoming passive, which leads to Perfetti getting more time with the puck in his control.

The critique against Perfetti is usually that he lacks a bit of motor and that he plays the game at a lower pace than what is required in the NHL. This is reminiscent of the negatives which surrounded Nick Suzuki before he joined the pros this year, and we all know that Suzuki transitioned pretty well.

HockeyProspecting

Current Rankings

Future Considerations: #9
Hockey Prospect: #4
ISS Hockey: #6
McKeen’s Hockey: #8
McKenzie/TSN: #8
NHL Central Scouting: #5 (Northamerican skaters)

To some extent, evaluators bicker on where to draft him. Some have Perfetti as the last of the great eight in this draft, and position him accordingly just a tad below players like Marco Rossi, Lucas Raymond, Alex Holtz, and Jamie Drysdale. Others rank him as a top-five talent. Craig Button has heralded Perfetti as the smartest player in the draft, and drawn comparisons between the Whitby native and Daniel Sedin. Nonetheless, there is a consensus opinion that Perfetti will be gone once the draft picks begin to hit the double digits.

Analytics-driven website Hockeyprospecting considers Perfetti to be the fifth most-likely prospect of his class to be NHL ready after the summer. Although I think that would be a lot to ask from the youngster, the fact remains that Perfetti has already performed at such a consistently high level in the OHL that he has nothing left to prove in Junior.

No matter what, the team that drafts Cole Perfetti will end up with a supremely gifted, high-producing player who would be a lock for a top-five pick in a normal year’s draft class. If Montreal ends up drafting at number eight or nine, it would certainly be tempting to double down on prospects named Cole and see if they — a few years down the line — end up with two sparkling diamonds instead of just the current one.