Brendan Perlini was selected 12th overall pick at the 2014 NHL entry draft by the Arizona Coyotes. He turned pro two years later. He started in the AHL and promptly scored 14 goal and 19 points in 17 games with the Tucson Roadrunners. That earned him a callup to the Coyotes and he finished the season scoring 14-7-21 in 57 games with Arizona.
He scored 17 goals the following season, and then had 2-4-6 in 22 games to start the 2018/2019 season before he was traded to Chicago. He scored 12 goals in 46 games with Chicago. But the following year after only playing only once in the first 10 games he was traded to Detroit. Things didn’t go well in Detroit and he scored one goal in 39 games.
He didn’t have an NHL contract, and opted to sign with Ambri-Piotta in the Swiss league last year. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision.
Leaving the NHL at 23 years of age isn’t the norm, but Perlini did it, and after a year in Swiss-A league he is back in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers. Perlini joined me and Jason Strudwick on TSN1260 on Friday and his responses were a breath of fresh air. He was honest, funny and clearly happy to be back in the NHL. But more importantly happy with where he is in life.
Jason Gregor: You’re a great example of you don’t give up on the dream when things don’t go exactly the way that you want. You went to Europe, worked on a lot of things, came back to the NHL and earned a job with the Oilers.
I want to go back to that year in Switzerland. Was it easy to go overseas, or was it hard because when you are an NHL player, I think you view yourself as an NHLer, did you have avoid letting your ego get the best of you and say, ‘This isn’t the end of the line, it’s just taking a different route for the short term?’
Brendan Perlini: You actually took the words right out of my mouth, you said it very well. It’s probably a tough thing to do for a lot of guys for sure because the ego plays a big part, but you do have to separate that and get rid of it. For me it was more of…it was more of a tactical kind of plan to go over there and to play a lot and to learn a lot and coming off of the year I had in Detroit where we were a dead last team, and we were always losing and myself personally I didn’t do to well. So, it was more of going over there, getting in a very positive environment and then getting a chance to play every situation and kind of getting the mojo back. That’s the main thing we kind of looked for.
Jason Strudwick: I actually played in Switzerland in as well, I played against Ambri-Piotta a lot as I was just down the street. What was that experience like? Does Ambri still have walls on three sides of the rink, and the fourth wall is open to let that cold air blow in?
Perlini: Did you play in Lugano?
Strudwick: Yeah, I played Lugano, I put on a defensive clinic when I was there (laughs).
Perlini: (Laughs) I actually lived in Lugano, that’s where they put me up. So, it was an unbelievable setup. To be honest I didn’t know what to expect going over. A friend of mine, [Philipp] Kurashev played there the year before signing with Chicago. So, for me, it was like how do I replicate that?
You can tell all of the people listening that Lugano is an awesome place to live. It was sunny and 75 (Fahrenheit) in February. I had shorts on and a T-shirt at home, and then where I played in Ambri, which you know yourself is way up in the mountains, snowbanks 10 feet high and I would wear sandals and a t-shirt in the car and then put on my winter coat and walk into the rink with my boots on. It was a crazy change over in temperature from home to the rink
But to answer your question, I actually scored the last goal in that rink. They got a new arena this year. You know what, I will say this, sorry if I keep going on here, I will say that going over there, you realize that sometimes in the NHL the glitz and the glam will get you; with the hot tubs, and this and that and you almost get a little bit soft in a way. When I got there, the rink is 100 years old. The dressing room you’re right on top of each other, it’s just a tiny little room, and you realize I’m just here to play hockey. That’s it. So, you kind of just get on with it.
Coming back to the NHL, I’m grateful to have the facilities that we have, but I’ve realized it’s all about the hockey and not the other stuff, you know?
Strudwick: Brendan, well said. Just a bit more on Ambria as I was fascinated when I went over there, but it was a really long time ago, so maybe it was a bit different than what you experienced. Was the hockey a little surprising to you? The way they approached things like riding a bus and you would have chocolate cake halfway through the game and it was like ‘What are we eating here?’ Or the skills practices or the way that they lifted weights, was it not better or worse, but just different from what you had seen previously in the NHL?
Perlini: So different. Yeah, it’s crazy but to me, I actually really enjoyed it just because it was different, and it was a change. I think where guys (North Americans) get kind of stuck over there or when they don’t like it, is if they are not open to it and they are always criticizing. Well, you have to kind of throw it out the window and accept they don’t do it the same. They are speaking different languages over here, they are not going to know what the NHL is like and this and that.
And I’ll never forget this. I played with Brian Flynn, he was a former NHLer, he played in Montreal and Buffalo. I go out for the warmup in my first game, and I’m not kidding you, we are doing the little warm up drills and you do these two-on-ones and guys are blocking shots in warm up! Before the game! And seeing guys skate as fast and as hard around as our team did and I went over to Flynn and was like, ‘Is this normal?’ And he was like, ‘Just wait, you haven’t seen nothing yet!’ So, it was fun. A lot of the stuff like that you don’t see in the NHL, but you kind of get those little stories like that and I definitely learned a lot. It was fun.
Gregor: As I’m listening to you speak about those experiences with such joy…did you get your love of hockey back playing there?
Perlini: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I don’t know if I ever lost my love of hockey per se. I think maybe I just, and I think that a lot of guys do it, they get almost, if you want to say, blinded just by certain things whether it’s contracts and this guy is on this contract and that amount of money and then this person is getting this opportunity and that… Especially when you’re switching teams, you’re always looking for opportunities and stuff.
I think in a way I got blinded by a few things like that, and now it’s kind of just go and play the game. Just go play hockey, enjoy it, have fun. Time flies man. This is my sixth season of pro. It feels like I just started junior two minutes ago and I’m already in my sixth season of professional hockey. Just really enjoy it, don’t take any of it for granted. Time flies. And for me, when I’m playing and having fun, that’s what you guys have seen so far in the pre-season, and you see my personality come out and I’m playing fun hockey and doing well. So, it all kind of works out I guess.
Gregor: Definitely. You mentioned you had a comfort level with Dave Tippett from Arizona and then you scored six goals in six preseason games. But then you only played 5:37 in the first regular season game. If this was a few years ago and you woke up the next day after only playing six or so minutes, how much different would your mindset have been then compared to now?
Perlini: It’s interesting you just brought that up because just prior to talking to you guys, I was just talking to my brother and he just finished a game, he’s playing over in Norway. He literally just talked about that. How when I was younger I would have been really upset by that, because you always want to play the most, or do as much as you can, but now I’m at the point where, especially, I respect Dave so much. Tipp has given me every opportunity, this time with Edmonton and also when I was in Phoenix.
Everything that he says happens as far as he says, he is very straight laced and I really, really respect it and I respect him. And so, if he came to me and said ‘you know what, I want you to play one shift this game, but I want you to make it your best one shift,’ I would do that for him. That’s the point I’m at right now. So regardless whether I play five minutes, 10 minutes or 55, I’m going to give it my best effort no matter what the ice time or anything like that. I’m in no position to really go out there and complain or this or that. I just come to the rink, do the best that I can, try to bring some positive energy to the room, and to the guys and support the guys and help the team as best as possible.
Gregor: Your brother Brett is playing in Europe, your father Fred, drafted in the NHL, played for the Maple Leafs and then he played a long time in Europe. He was a gifted offensive player. One year he had 226 points for the Streatham Redskins in only 31 games! He had 135 goals in 31 games, how good is fast Freddy in shinny?
Strudwick: Do they count warmups (laughs).
Perlini: (Laughs) They don’t mention that they had no goalies in net (laughs). That’s what I say to him too. Did the goalie even try? I can’t even rationalize it, it’s unbelievable to be honest. You know what, he’s still got it. It’s one of those things right, and I’m sure you guys have seen it, when a guy just has a knack, sometimes they say the puck was following him or he just gets the bounces. I think it’s more the player, just being smart and being in the right areas. Still when we mess around, my dad he still coaches a college prep program in Detroit ,and he also does a lot of skills stuff with a lot of local guys in Detroit, [Zach] Werenski, [Dylan] Larkin, myself, a lot of guys.
When he’ll demonstrate something you’re kind of looking at it like ok, it’s not maybe the perfect posture or this or that like others may critique, but when he does the drill it’s in the net. He just has the knack, or the scorer’s touch. Hopefully I have a little bit of that. I’m trying to keep up with his stats, but it’s pretty impossible.
Strudwick: His stats are ridiculous. When you sat down with Dave Tippett and spoke with him, and you already knew him obviously, but what did you hear, what did you talk about that made you so comfortable that you knew that this was the right destination for you?
Perlini: I think that it just goes back to how we always had a really good relationship when I was in Arizona. He gave me opportunity there. Unfortunately after he had left Arizona, just before that, our exit meetings were really, really good and he had some bigger things planned in mind for me in the next season, but it was kind of cut short if you will.
He stayed in contact when he had the job in Seattle and I was in Chicago. He would send me the odd text, checking in, ‘maybe you should work on this or this.’ So we kept in contact over the years. Then when he took over in Edmonton, any time we would play, I ran into him after the game a few times. We were always kind of in touch and so when I had the opportunity coming back from Europe, we were looking at what teams were interested. This was one spot that was very intriguing to us, because I had had success under him in the past, and I think that if I was looking at my previous years whether it be in Detroit or Chicago it was almost you were coming in off of a trade, you’re not drafted there so to speak, so it’s not like you’re kind of a home grown talent if you will.
So, they have been with guys a little bit longer, they kind of know them, so you’re kind of fighting an uphill battle so to speak just getting to know the coach, the system, just day to day it just takes a while. And so, for me it’s like I can come in here at the start of the year, I know him, I know his systems, we have a good relationship, it was kind of a no-brainer in a way instead of going somewhere else where it was again starting really fresh, and I don’t know any of the coaching staff and I’m on a whole other team. That was my thinking in coming here for sure.
Gregor: You were joking about your dad and some of his statistics. You’ve played against McDavid, but now being able to see him every day, what was your initial reaction when it was suddenly a day-to-day basis with Draisaitl and McDavid. Has anything stood out to you that you were unaware of?
Perlini: You know what, man, McDavid, he’s a cheat code, he’s a video game. It’s truly unbelievable to watch him every day. I’m grateful I get to experience it. I’ve played with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Dylan Larkin, Shane Doan, a lot of really, really good players and this guy is so far above anyone that I’ve seen, like across the NHL. It’s unbelievable.
The speed is just incredible, and I consider myself a fast guy too. I played with other fast players; (Andreas) Athanasiou, Darren Helm is really quick, but this guy it’s just incredible. The edgework, the way that he can keep his speed turning, turn back the other way. He did something in pre-season where I think it was against Calgary… He came down the wing, he kind of lost the puck, but then he regained it, put it through the guys stick, somebody tried to hit him, he moved out of the way. And then the other D tried to elbow him in the head, and he moved his head out of the way like he was boxing, dodging a punch from Mike Tyson. I was like oh my gawd. And I know that it sounds like a little bit exaggerated in a way, but like I said, I’ve played with a lot of guys and Connor is so far above them it is unbelievable. I think the perfect match to him is Draisaitl, it’s almost like in a way that opposites attract. He (Draisaitl) can, he really slows it down and then you see a lot of times he will slow it down and then McDavid comes flying through and then he gives it to him. How are you stopping that? It’s pretty incredible to watch.
Gregor: The other day Leon Draisaitl was joking about McDavid’s one timer and that it’s a good “fluffer.” Is that the running joke now?
Perlini: (Laughs) you know what, I haven’t been around enough to even kind of know about it. I mean… however many goals he scores in a year, I don’t really know what more people could want right?
Gregor: I was surprised, he’s never scored a one timer he says.
Perlini: Oh really? I didn’t know that. I guess breakaways and highlight reels aren’t good enough these days (laughs).
Strudwick: Embarrassing defencemen isn’t enough (laughs)?
Gregor: You guys had an optional skate today. After game one, and I know it was only one game, what is your overall sense of your new team?
Perlini: Well for me personally, I was joking with a few guys about being on a pretty good team for once. I say that loosely where these guys have made the playoffs, they’ve had success. I was in Detroit, we were dead last. I was in Arizona and we were at the bottom of the bucket for quite a few years. For myself it’s nice being around the best players and then winning too. That’s what you want to do obviously. And then here, being with McDavid and Draisaitl there’s always a legitimate shot at going deep in the playoffs and if not the Stanley Cup or whatever. And that’s obviously the goal.
And so, to answer your question, it was a good game last night. Obviously, we would have liked to have closed her out before overtime and all that kind of stuff, but it was obviously good to get the first one out of the way and get the season rolling.
Gregor: Thanks so much for coming on. We might have to get fast Freddy on to talk about his 135 goal season in Europe.
Perlini: You know what, he would absolutely love that if you guys can get him on.
Gregor: You and I will talk about that tomorrow, we would love that.
Perlini: If you think I go on, that guy will keep you guys going. You guys might as well do a two and a half hour Scorsese movie with him on.
Strudwick: We want to go through every one of those 135 goals that one year and see if he remembers every single one.
Perlini: Yes (laughs). YouTube Fred Perlini goals, his most famous goal that comes up, it was one that he scored in Nottingham. The goalie (laughs) I think he shot it blocker side; the goalie honestly looks like he’s some Joe Blow with street hockey pads on (laughs).
You can listen to the entire interview here. Reading his words doesn’t do justice to his tone or excitement about hockey. He was so honest and raw in his interview. And funny. His father, Fred, will be on the show today at 3:20 MT. You can listen at TSN 1260 or online here.
He will need to get more than six minutes a night to make an impact moving forward, but he feels he is more prepared to handle a reduced role if he has to.
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