Saginaw Spirit center Cole Perfetti saw firsthand what it takes to make the National Hockey League last year while visiting the northern Michigan cottage of one of the ownership partners of the Ontario Hockey League team.
A potential first-round draft pick by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2020 NHL draft, Perfetti ran into former Red Wings center Kris Draper, the four-time Stanley Cup champion and the team’s new chief of amateur scouting.
Draper, whose son Kienan played spring hockey against Perfetti, was at the cottage as a friend of Saginaw partner Brandon Bordeaux, who has billeted Perfetti for two years. Perfetti was surprised to see Draper “working out like a maniac.”
“He’s running up the hill, working his hardest . . . and he’s not even playing anymore,” Perfetti told The Detroit News. “He was pushing the pace, setting a good example. It just shows his mindset, how he attacks the game even when he’s not playing. He always says, when you’re resting and not working, someone else in the world is getting better and getting that much closer to one of those (NHL) jobs. That stuck in my head.”
A year later, the 18-year-old Perfetti may wind up in Detroit with the fourth overall pick in the draft, which is scheduled for Oct. 9-10 with all seven rounds to be conducted online.
By the time the top three players (Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield and Tim Stutzle) are expected to be off the board, general manager Steve Yzerman and Draper likely will choose between defensemen Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson, forwards Perfetti, Marco Rossi and Lucas Raymond, and possibly goalie Yaroslav Askarov.
Perfetti said he wants to be “selected as high as possible” after finishing in second place in league scoring with 37 goals, 74 assists and 111 points this year, but knows there’s a chance he could be Draper’s first pick in his new job of running Detroit’s draft.
“At the end of the day, I hope what I did throughout the year on the ice and off the ice speaks for itself and makes it a no-brainer for them,” Perfetti said. “There would be no hard feelings if they don’t draft me because it’s a business and they have to do what’s right for them. If it was the Red Wings, it would be amazing and a dream come true.”
Saginaw general manager Dave Drinkill said Draper “probably knows more about Cole than any other NHL scout.” The team’s ownership partners also include Red Wings senior adviser Jimmy Devellano and former Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood.
“Cole has been a big-time point producer, a go-to player, ultra-competitive and our team has taken off since he came on board,” said Drinkill, who selected Perfetti fifth overall after Byfield and Drysdale were taken in the 2019 OHL draft. “Kris will remove that relationship aspect and do his job. That’s what he’s paid to do and the Red Wings are in good hands. If they do take Cole, they’ll be getting a heck of a player.”
Originally committed to play for coach Mel Pearson at the University of Michigan (“I would’ve just been going into my freshman year this year,” he said), Perfetti made the switch to Saginaw for the 2018-19 season and was the OHL’s highest-scoring rookie with a 37-goal, 74-point season, nine more points than Rossi and 13 more than Byfield.
It was also the most points for a 16-year-old since Alex Galchenyuk of the Minnesota Wild had 83 points with the Sarnia Sting in 2010-11.
Off the ice, he helped start a non-profit foundation called Fetts’ Friends to raise money and support the pediatric center at Covenant Kids in Saginaw and he was named the 2020 Canadian Hockey League’s scholastic player of the year with a 93% average.
“He’s mature beyond his years,” Drinkill said. “He’ll visit young kids in the hospital who are going through tough times and they’ll play games on their huge iPad. He was raised to be humble and respectful and he wanted to give back to the community.”
Perfetti said his main hockey goal is to make the NHL “as soon as possible” and will do “whatever it takes” to get there this year even though he knows he’ll likely be returned to Saginaw for a third year of junior hockey no matter which team takes him in the draft.
A Whitby, Ontario native, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Perfetti has been working out with former Red Wings conditioning coach Peter Renzetti and is looking forward to playing with Red Wings draft pick Albin Grewe, a hard-charging, trash-talking Swede who will join the Spirit for one season, similar to what defenseman Filip Hroenk did in Saginaw in 2017 before taking the next step to Grand Rapids and earning a top-four spot in Detroit.
“He (Grewe) can’t wait to get down here,” said Perfetti, who texted the 19-year-old winger and welcomed him to the league right after Grewe was selected in the second round of the OHL Import Draft. “He brings that mixture of grit and skill and will be an important piece of their future. He’s a force and kids will be scared of him.”
Drinkill says the Spirit have a lot of high-end skill after the most successful back-to-back seasons in the franchise’s 18-year history in Saginaw, but he feels Perfetti will be even better in the NHL when others “think the game on the same level.”
“His hockey IQ is a thing of beauty,” Drinkill said. “He’s thinking three moves ahead and where the guys will be to receive the pass. He looks like he’s cruising out there but he’s a deceptively quick skater. He’ll wait for a play to happen and it feels like the seas part. He’ll go down as the best player in Saginaw history when his career is over.”
Although he says he doesn’t have “the natural quick feet of Connor McDavid or Nathan McKinnon,” Perfetti feels he’s improved his “straightaway speed” and lower body strength after working with skating coach Tracy Tutton for the past six years.
“My skating won’t blow your mind if you’re watching in the stands, but I don’t get caught from behind very often,” said Perfetti, who doubled his assist total to 74 from 37 in his second season. “I’m stronger on my feet and harder to knock off the puck.”
When Perfetti crosses the offensive blueline, he says there’s a number of factors he takes into consideration when trying to create a scoring chance.
“If it’s an odd-man rush and there’s a loose gap with the defenseman, I can delay, slow the game down, wait for the third and fourth trailer, cut to the middle, create a 2-on-1 or use a screen to shoot,” Perfetti said. “If there’s less time and space, I can turn the boots on, make his feet turn, play it off his back hip, lay it up the wall or soft into the corner. You judge gap and speed and use your brain to look for the open guy.”
Despite Perfetti’s offensive skills, he was cut for the first time in his life by the gold-medal winning Canadian team which featured Byfield and Drysdale as underage players at the world junior championships in the Czech Republic. Drinkill knew Perfetti wouldn’t “pout” or “take shifts off” when he returned to Saginaw. Perfetti said getting cut “fueled the fire.”
“It definitely sucks, but good things can come from failure,” Perfetti said. “I came back hungry and wanting to prove everyone wrong and that I should’ve been on the team. I played my game, played hard and never let up. I was so close but it was a learning experience. Hopefully, I’ll make the team this year and become an impact player.”
The world junior championships are scheduled in Edmonton and Red Deer from Dec. 26, 2020-Jan. 5, 2021 and the Canadian team could feature Perfetti, Byfield and Drysdale, three top players from the Toronto area from the 2002 birth-year class, drafted in the top five players in the OHL and possibly in the top five players in the NHL draft.
“Perfetti is a player I grew up playing against,” Drysdale said on The Detroit News’ OctoPulse podcast earlier this year. “Every time he has the puck, he’s dangerous. His numbers speak for themselves. He’s an unbelievable player.”
If Perfetti does wind up back at his Bordeaux billet home, he said he’ll continue to grow his charitable foundation with help from the Bordeauxs, the Spirit Foundation, the team and the hospital and spend time with his “second family,” including their son Cooper. Perfetti’s parents in Whitby billeted Philadelphia Flyers prospect Andy Andreoff, Memorial Cup champion Cole Cassels of the Oshawa Generals and former England and France pro Jeff Brown so he knows what it’s like growing up in a hockey family.
“Coop loves the game,” Perfetti said. “He’ll be out there after his homework is done at 8:30 to 10:30, lights on, music on and we’ll have some heated battles on the rink. I know how I was feeling at that age when they asked me to join. They made my day so I try to make him happy and make his day. He’s a fun guy to hang out with.
“I’m not sure where the foundation will be 5-10 years from now. I’ve been fortunate to have good health growing up but many kids don’t have that chance. They’re super sick and need some time and space to get their mind off being in the hospital. As my career furthers, we’ll keep giving back, growing and escalating to a new level.”
Cole Perfetti glance
Born: Jan. 1, 2002
Birthplace: Whitby, Ontario
Team: Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League
Stats: Second in league scoring with 37 goals, 74 assists, 111 points in 61 games
Ranked: Fifth-ranked North American skater for the 2020 NHL Draft on Oct. 9-10
Quote: “He’ll (Perfetti) go down as the best player in Saginaw history when his career is over,” Spirit general manager Dave Drinkill said.