Brendan Perlini is out to avoid being That Guy — the NHL draft prospect who piles up points for a young team which is scrapping by in the standings.
The Niagara IceDogs, who had 11 rookies in its lineup on Sunday vs. the Ottawa 67's, figure on counting on the 17-year-old Perlini and two 18-year-olds, Toronto Maple Leafs-drafted centre Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony DiFruscia, to carry their offence. Perlini has evinced next-level skill, particularly last Saturday when he scored two goals and rushed the puck down the wing before curling a perfect pass to Verhaeghe for a third-period game-tying goal vs. Bellevillle.
However, the 6-foot-2½, 205-pound Perlini, whose brother Brett and father Fred were also elite players, knows it's going to take a little more to break into the first round.
"In terms of goals for this season, it's in terms of getting better at certain aspects of that game, be it defensive play or chipping pucks out [of the defensive zone]," says Perlini, a resident of Shelby Township, Ont., who spent much of his youth in England and in Michigan after playing minor hockey for the Detroit Belle Tire program. The little things. All that stuff helps the team achieve success. I just want to keep working hard."
"I see myself as a big, strong power forward," adds Perlini, who joined the retooling IceDogs in a January 2013 trade. "I like to use my speed off the rush, like to make other players better.
Fred Perlini played eight NHL games with the Toronto Maple Leafs over two stints in the early 1980s. Brett Perlini, 23, was in the AHL and ECHL last season after a four-year tenure at Michigan State. Not surprisingly, the IceDogs have found out Brendan Perlini has a maturity beyond his years.
"He's a consummate pro already and he's only a second-year junior," says IceDogs assistant coach David Bell, who's been running Niagara's bench while coach-GM Marty Williamson recovers from surgery for a kidney stone. "He knows how to build his body and he knows how to prepare."
"He has a pro approach," Bell adds. "He comes and asks about his improvements on the penalty kill and on his D zone. He knows he needs to work on his total package. A lot of guys, all they want to talk about is points. He's not yet once come and asked, 'let me see the goal I just scored.' Rather, it's 'where should I have been on that goal against?' or 'where should I have been on that penalty kill?' That's what pros do."
Perlini is off to a strong start, with six points (4G-2A) in four games for Niagara (0-3-1-0). Along with having a quick release on his shot, he also has the smooth movement often characteristic of taller forwards from Europe. That owes to his development when he lived in England, growing a 20-minute drive south of London. That might sound like a surprise.
"Everyone thinks that playing in England, there's not much hockey, but we would probably only play 18 or 19 games in our league and then go to Sweden or Russia for tournaments," he says. "So we would really get the most of the European aspect of play. I've pretty much got worldwide experience from here in Canada, playing in the U.S. too. It was good experience over there.".
1. Which NHL players do you watch closely since you believe your game could be similar to theirs some day?
"I like an Evgeni Malkin or a James Neal [on the Pittsburgh Penguins]. They're bigger guys that can skate and they're skilled. Obviously, they're really good players in the NHL. I wish I could be that good one day."
2. How are your brother and father with advice about how to handle being in your draft year — automatically forthcoming or do they hold back, let you discover it for yourself?
"A bit of both. They're not really talking to me too much this year, they're kind of letting me do my thing. Over last spring and last summer, we set a lot of goals and really focused on this upcoming year. I think I've played well so far but I can definitely turn it up more."
3. How eager are you and your teammates about moving into the Meridian Centre next season?
"Real excited. My first game in Niagara, I realized that my dad played in that arena 30 years prior in the AHL for the [St. Catharines] Saints. I thought, 'oh, this has got to be pretty old.' It's definitely exciting to get to a new rink. I'm sure everything will be top-notch. All the boys, they just can't wait to get in there next year, I'm sure it's going to be a fun year. Hopefully we make this a good year when we close The Jack down."
4. If hockey had never been invented, what sport could you see yourself playing?
"I'd probably be a golfer. Growing up in England, I played a ton of golf. You can play year-round there. I'm probably a 4- or 5-handicap now. I play pretty regularly."
5. Favourite movie or TV show?
"Probably a movie like Happy Gilmore, a classic like that."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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