Top draft pick Perfetti signs first pro deal with Jets

Cole Perfetti keeps checking off boxes on a brimming hockey to-do list.

The young centre signed his first pro deal Monday, agreeing to terms with the Winnipeg Jets on a three-year, entry-level contract that carries an average annual value of US$1,658,333.

Perfetti, 18, who positioned himself as lofty NHL draft choice after a sensational — albeit abbreviated — 2019-20 Ontario Hockey League season, will earn a salary of US$925,000, while the remaining US$733,333 is based on performance bonuses, according to CapFriendly.

“It feels unbelievable to sign and get the business side done. That’s a big step in the process for me and my family. I’m very thankful for that,” Perfetti said Monday during a Zoom chat with reporters.

“When I first got the hard copy (of the contract), I kind of just looked it up and down and couldn’t really believe it. It’s hard to believe when you work so hard all your life and then it all starts to pay off with one signature on a piece of paper. It’s pretty surreal. It was a cool moment, for sure.”

Perfetti scored 37 goals and registered 111 points in 61 games last season to finish second in OHL scoring. He was selected to the league’s second all-star team and was recognized as the scholastic player of the year for all of Canadian junior hockey.

He was grabbed by Winnipeg in the first round (10th overall) of the NHL draft a month ago. The Whitby, Ont., product is projected as the Jets’ second-line centre of the future, behind Mark Scheifele, the organization’s first-ever draft pick (2011) and a former OHL standout in his own right.

But first things first.

Perfetti is among four dozen teens invited to Canada’s national junior team selection camp, which begins next week in Red Deer, Alta. The players, including 26 forwards, will compete for a chance to represent the country at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, Dec. 25 to Jan. 5 inside the tournament bubble in Edmonton.

It’s expected to be a deep Canadian roster, with many returnees and a few bonus bodies freed up by their NHL employers. However, Perfetti remains undaunted.

“That tournament’s going to be crazy this year. There’s going to be a lot of players that normally wouldn’t be there… it’s definitely going to elevate the play of the tournament. Hopefully, I can be a part of that and make the team and be a part of that tournament and be one of those guys that are elevating the play,” he said. “I have my sights right now on making the team, on doing whatever it takes to make the roster.”

Perfetti was trimmed from Canada’s final roster last December but channelled his energy into elevating his impact on the Saginaw Spirit lineup, scoring 10 goals and amassing 32 points in 15 games upon his return.

“There are so many lessons you can learn in being cut from a team. But the big lesson for me was how to bounce back from adversity. I learned a lot about how to use that as motivation and how to fuel me for the rest of the season and up to this point. I’m still using it as motivation from being cut last year and taking that into camp this year and hopefully make the team this time around,” he said.

Wearing Canadian colours for an extended period would certainly boost his preparedness for a shot at cracking Winnipeg’s roster for the 2020-21 NHL campaign.

“I think this is the closest hockey that you can get to the next level, to the NHL. The mixture of the pace and the skill and the quality of play out there… I think that would be a great tune-up for Jets camp,” said Perfetti. “I think every kid’s dream and every player’s goal is to make the NHL as fast as possible, and that’s obviously my goal, is to make it this year. It’s definitely a far achievement, and it’s going to be very hard to do. But I think it’s possible.

“Obviously, the Jets are going to have a plan for me in what they want and a goal for me. Hopefully I earn a spot and play very good at camp that they are forced to keep me there. But I’ll be happy with whatever the plan is. My goal will always be making the NHL as fast as possible. And I’m going to do whatever it takes to step into the league right away.”

Perfetti, listed at 5-10, 180 pounds, acknowledged he needs to work on another skating gear to be NHL ready, and he’s also intent continuing to beef up his frame.

“It’s a big jump from the OHL and it’s a man’s game at the next level and everyone’s so strong and fast. That’s just going to take time in the weight room and getting that man-strength and maturing more and more into my body and natural strength will come,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot, five days in the gym every week (and) skating three or four times a week (since April).

He’s also quickly become very familiar with the Winnipeg personnel.

“As a player going in and looking at that roster, looking at those potential teammates and linemates, you get really excited. I was definitely very happy going to the Jets with the way their future is going and the way they are trending. The players they have, they are just world-class players like Scheifele, (Blake) Wheeler, (Kyle) Connor and (Patrik) Laine… the list goes on and on,” said Perfetti, who turns 19 on New Year’s Day.

“To just think about getting a chance to play with some of those guys, it’s pretty unbelievable.”

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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