Last season was incredibly strange for any OHL-affiliated player, but for those who knew what their goals were, it was also productive. Case in point: Cole Perfetti, the Winnipeg Jets first-rounder and erstwhile Saginaw Spirit star.
Perfetti has been excellent at Jets main camp and his experiences last year put him on the right path. It all started with an opportunity to play in the AHL as a teenager, something that normally would not have been allowed for an OHLer.
The talented center played 32 games for the Manitoba Moose, finishing second in team scoring with 17 assists and 26 points thanks to his great vision and hockey IQ. Perfetti was a big-time producer in Saginaw too, but getting to battle against pros took things to another level.
"The AHL is the second-best league in the world," he said. "They're men, they're fast, they're skilled and they can make plays. It's a big jump from the OHL."
But it wouldn't be Perfetti's only tour on a bigger stage, as he got the chance to play for Canada at the World Championship in Latvia later on in the year. That international squad was a fascinating blend of youth and experience; from Perfetti, Owen Power and Jacob Bernard-Docker on one end to Adam Henrique, Darcy Kuemper and Connor Brown on the other. While Canada got off to a rocky start and needed help just to get into the playoff round, the squad came together at the right time and ended up winning gold in a thrilling overtime final against Finland.
"It's still hard to believe," Perfetti said. "At 19, I won a men's worlds gold before I won a world junior gold (he and Canada took silver at last year's WJC). It was an unbelievable experience and a huge stepping stone for me. Being able to practise and play with NHLers every day for a month straight was really good for my development. I thought I played really good at that tournament and showed I could compete at that level."
As for the rest of his summer, Perfetti adapted to his situation. Ice time back in Ontario was hard to come by due to the pandemic, but that allowed him to give his hips and feet a bit of a break. Instead, he focused more on the gym and found tangible results, shedding some "baby fat" and putting himself in a position to add more muscle. Some of his summer workouts included sprint days and track work, while focusing on agility and lower-body work several times a week. Overall, he wanted to improve on his lower-body strength, speed and conditioning and based on how well he fared early on at Jets camp, the plan was working well.
As for the mission, it couldn't be more clear for the youngster, who thanks to his AHL service last year, is eligible to return to the Moose.
"All I could think about this summer is being in that Jets lineup for opening night and obviously they're going to do what's best for me and my development," he said. "If it means staying in the NHL, so be it – I'm going to do everything to force their hand, make them put me in the lineup by playing well and being a good person off the ice. The Jets have a plan and I know they'll do what's best for me. I'm going to do my best to make my dream come true."