Winnipeg Jets sign top draft pick Cole Perfetti to entry-level contract

·4 min read

Cole Perfetti says physically holding his first contract with the Winnipeg Jets was surreal. 

The Jets chose the 18-year-old centre from Whitby, Ont., 10th overall at the NHL draft last month and officially inked him to a deal Monday. 

“When I first got the hard copy, I just kind of looked it up and down," Perfetti said on a video call. "It’s hard to believe when you work so hard your whole life and then it all kind of starts to pay off with one signature on a piece of paper."

The three-year entry-level contract has an average annual value of US$1.66 million. 

Perfetti, five-foot-10 and 177 pounds, spent last season with the Ontario Hockey League's Saginaw Spirit. He tallied 111 points (37 goals and 74 assists) in 61 games and was ranked fifth among North American skaters in the NHL's final prospect rankings.

In a normal year, the dynamic young forward be back with the Spirit, or perhaps vying for ice time with the Jets. 

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he's instead training at home in Whitby, spending five days a week in the gym, working on his strength and speed, and another three or four days a week skating. Spin classes and treadmill workouts have helped him keep up his conditioning.

Not playing hockey has added to the surreal nature of becoming a Jet, Perfetti said. 

“It hasn’t really sunk in 100 per cent yet," he said, adding that if he were playing, the situation would "start to feel more real."

Perfetti expects to be back on the ice soon, however. He's one of 47 players who've been invited to the Canadian junior hockey team's selection camp being held in Red Deer, Alta., next week. 

With the NHL on hold, the 2021 tournament is expected to showcase a number of young stars who would usually be playing in the big league.

Having players like Chicago Blackhawks centre Kirby Dach will be a "huge boost" for the roster, Perfetti said. 

“All the countries are going to be like that, they’re all going to be getting guys they weren’t expecting. It’s definitely going to elevate the play of the tournament," he said. "Hopefully I can be a part of that.”

Last year, Perfetti was cut from the world junior team, an experience that he said was a "wake-up call." 

He remembers feeling his stomach drop when he got the knock on his hotel room door. 

“It’s a tough feeling, going into the room and knowing you’re about to get released from the team. It was the worst minute of my life," Perfetti said. 

“I learned how to use that as motivation to fuel me for the rest of the season and up until this point. I’m still using that motivation from being cut last year and taking that into camp this year, and hopefully I’ll make the team this time around.”

If he does make the junior squad, Perfetti believes the experience would be "a great tune up" for yet-to-be scheduled Jets training camp. 

“I think (the world juniors) is the closest hockey you can get to the NHL," he said. "The mixture of the pace and the skill, the quality of play out there, it’s definitely going to prepare me — if I make that team — to go into Jets camp and feel really prepared."

Breaking into Winnipeg's lineup is Perfetti's goal this year.

The team has a number of talented forwards, including Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine and Paul Stastny, but Perfetti said he sees places he can slot in, and believe he can make the jump with the work that he's put in this off-season. 

“It’s going to be very hard to do but I think it’s possible," he said. 

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has said that he likes how Perfetti is humble, level-headed and a student of the game.

"He's a determined person, he's a determined player,'' the GM said after the draft. "I have no doubt that he's going to be pushing us to make some tough decisions sooner rather than later.''

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2020.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press