Brendan Perlini still a big part of Coyotes’ future
Glendale, AZ — Brendan Perlini’s career arc the past two seasons was private cause for concern for Coyotes management. Two years ago, the team’s 2014 first-round pick (12th overall) broke his hand at the Coyotes’ prospect training camp, limiting him to 43 games with Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League.
At least Perlini returned and racked up 60 points (21 goals) to build off the previous season’s totals of 34 goals and 71 points in 58 games. Last season’s totals were harder to explain. In 57 games, Perlini managed just 25 goals and 45 points, hardly the kind of numbers that proclaimed his readiness to make the leap to pro hockey.
“It was definitely a little frustrating at times,” Perlini said Monday at Gila River Arena from the first day of Coyotes prospect development camp. “Being a scorer, you always want to be putting in goals, but I was trying to look at the bigger picture and focus on what I needed to do to get to the next level.”
That focus was one of a couple factors that may have impacted Perlini’s production. Niagara underachieved during the 2015-16 regular season, finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference. Then-Coyotes GM Don Maloney intimated that there may have been some issues with the IceDogs coaching staff and there were reports that coach Marty Williamson wasn’t entirely focused or detail-oriented after heart surgery the previous season, and a setback that put him in intensive care.
The IceDogs made a playoff run all the way to the OHL Finals this spring, but owner Bill Burke still fired Williamson at the end of the season, hinting that Williamson, 53, wasn’t a good fit for a younger generation of players that requires answers instead of marching orders.
“It’s a rebuilding cycle, and I just thought that it was time to go in a different direction,” Burke told the St. Catherine’s Standard. “Maybe analytics or things like that; the next generation of coaches that you see around our league, some are in their late 20s or early 30s and they just bring a different thing to the team. Maybe we can learn something from them.”
Perlini declined to address any internal issues with the team but in assessing his season, it’s clear the Coyotes are looking at more than just numbers.
“The perception is [he had] a rough go,” coach Dave Tippett said. “He didn’t put up the stats he did last year but he still does some good things on the ice. I spent some time with him last week. He’s a very motivated young man.”
Perlini has a big body and a goal-scorer’s hands, but Tippett sees far more NHL attributes.
“I think he’s a going to be a better pro than he was a junior,” Tippett said. “He skates well, he’s real curious to learn and he wants to take that next step. I think you’ll see him continue to flourish.”
Perlini said he worked on his game away from the puck last season after an eye-opening pro experience.
“Playing last year in the NHL exhibition games, I realized the game is a lot simpler in the NHL,” he said. “Guys are in better position whereas in juniors, if a 16-year-old makes a mistake, somebody capitalizes on it.
“You don’t have the puck too much in the NHL game so you need to make sure you are doing the right things when you don’t, and then make sure you are on the right side of it in the defensive zone. Sometimes, I would be a little too eager to jump into the offense and go.”
Coyotes Director of Player Development Steve Sullivan likes the attention to detail, but he is still urging Perlini to trust his instincts and not overthink the game. Sullivan was encouraged by the 6-foot-2, 205-pound left wing’s performance at the highest levels.
“He was terrific in both of our training camps and I think the World Juniors experience was good for him,” Sullivan said. “They rolled four lines and he was in and out of various lines, playing in all situations.”
Making the Coyotes roster out of training camp won’t be easy for Perlini. Left wing may be the Coyotes’ deepest position, with Max Domi, Tobias Rieder, Jamie McGinn and Jordan Martinook all locks for the roster, but it’s possible someone could move to the right side.
“For a lot of players, the step into the NHL has as much to do with circumstances as readiness and the depth at that position means you’re going to have to earn your spot,” Sullivan said. “I know our prospects will hate me for saying it, but I think anybody would benefit from a year in the AHL because it’s a terrific pro league that doesn’t get enough respect.
“Ninety percent of all players need to go from the OHL to AHL. Maybe it’s just 40 games, maybe it’s a year or maybe it’s two to three years like Martinook.”
Perlini understands all of that, but it doesn’t change his approach. He has been in Arizona the entire summer, training and working with the Coyotes’ staff with one goal in mind.
“This is the biggest summer of my life because I want to make the leap to the next level,” he said. “The main goal is to play in the NHL this year.”