GLENDALE, Ariz. — Brendan Perlini might need to update the evaluation app on his phone. Moments before the Coyotes’ 2014 first-round pick expressed satisfaction with his training camp performance, his coach presented a mixed bag of reviews.
“I thought he was good in the rookie camp and (has) just been alright so far (in training camp),” coach Dave Tippett said, noting that Friday’s preseason game in San Jose was a big one for Perlini.
Perlini had a pair of goals in the Coyotes’ two rookie games in Los Angeles, but when the teams faced each other in Bakersfield, California during training camp — with established NHL players on both rosters — the power forward’s offensive flair disappeared.
It remained in hiding during the team’s Red and White scrimmage on Thursday.
“He’s a player who can create something out of nothing and in the rookie games you saw that,” Tippett said. “He had two goals off broken plays and he had a dynamic part to his game.
“In the only other game, the Bakersfield game, (he was missing) lots of details that a young player, you’d expect doesn’t have, but without the couple things of flash.”
Perlini presents a difficult and tantalizing decision for the Coyotes. If you assume that prospects Max Domi and Anthony Duclair make the roster (Tippett will make no such assumptions), the Coyotes’ second and third lines could feature Martin Hanzal between Domi and Duclair and Brad Richardson in between Shane Doan and Tobias Rieder.
If Perlini, a left wing, is deemed ready, he could add a scoring dimension to the top line with center Antoine Vermette and right wing Mikkel Boedker that versatile forward Steve Downie does not, giving the Coyotes three intriguing lines and some depth to play with below them.
After missing the first 25 games of the OHL season with a broken bone in his hand, Perlini scored 26 goals and had 60 points in 43 games for the Niagara IceDogs.
At age 19, however, questions persist about his physical maturity and the maturity of his game.
Coyotes development coach Steve Sullivan said Perlini has an NHL lower body, but when you talk to Perlini, his upper body still looks slight for the rigors of the NHL grind.
“That’s normal for his age,” Sullivan said. “That’s just one part of his development that he can certainly work on.”
Perlini said he worked hard in the offseason to add strength and holds somewhere between 210 and 212 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame.
“They kind of monitor my weight but they don’t have an end goal. It’s kind of based off how I feel,” he said. “If I feel too heavy at one weight I might slim down a bit and try and go for more speed, or vice versa. At 210, 212, I feel good, fast and strong but I always try to increase my weight and stay stable.”
As Tippett noted, there are other details missing in Perlini’s game, whether it’s on the defensive end or playing within structure. Perlini is aware of those deficiencies and insists he’s worked on improving them.
“I think I’m decent,” he said of his defensive game. “I’m trying to work on it but I don’t know how quick things like that can come about… It’s a process just working away and trying to get better at something.”
The Coyotes will remain patient with Perlini, who brings a natural goal-scoring ability that this team desperately needs. Whether that patience means playing another season with Niagara or with the Coyotes may depend on one factor.
“Just having an impact on the game,” Tippett said. “Different players have different assets.
“He’s a fast player who goes to the net hard and has skill to score, but if you don’t see those things in a game then he’s not using his assets to his best ability. Then you start looking at some of the other things he’s doing and you’re going, ‘hmm, he needs some help there.'”
Training camp is winding down and the Coyotes likely will announce their final cuts within a week. Perlini may only get a couple more chances in the team’s final four preseason games to show he’s ready to make the giant jump from juniors to the NHL.
“I’m obviously going to be pretty focused on the game and trying to play my best out there,” Perlini said before Friday’s game. “I can only control what I do out there. I’m just trying to play hard and get better.”