The feel-good story of the Edmonton Oilers’ 2021 preseason will not have a happy ending. At least, not for the time being. Just a couple of months after stealing the show in exhibition games, Brendan Perlini has been assigned to the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors. Perlini was placed on waivers on Tuesday (Dec. 7) and went unclaimed.
It’s a disappointing – if not unexpected – development for the winger, who, in a very short span, has gone from being the talk of the town to the forgotten man. The 25-year-old was barely noticeable, suiting up for just 13 of Edmonton’s first 24 games and averaging a meagre 7:33 of ice time. He did not record a single point, fired six shots on goal, and had a minus-4 rating.
Perlini’s negligible impact has been a far cry from the preseason when he led the Oilers with six goals, all at even strength. He also led the team in plus/minus (plus-6) and trailed only captain Connor McDavid in points (5) and shots (15). Playing with a ton of energy and a sense of confidence, Perlini looked like a man rediscovering his passion for the game, sparking hopes that he would be able to resurrect his once-promising career in Edmonton.
Easy to Root For Perlini
Oilers fans fell head over heels for Perlini. Why wouldn’t they? As a former lottery pick who found himself out of the league at age 24 and was now willing to start from the beginning with nothing guaranteed, it was easy to pull for him.
He was an explosive forward for the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League and was drafted 12th overall by the Arizona Coyotes in 2014. He made his NHL debut with the Coyotes in 2016-17, scoring 14 goals in 57 games. He also had 17 goals in 74 goals the following season and totalled 14 goals in 68 games in 2018-19 when he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Related Link: Oilers: 4 Things You Didn’t Know About Brendan Perlini
But he was left looking for work after a difficult 2019-20 season when he scored once in 40 games split between the Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. He then hit the reset button, signing with HC Ambri-Piotta of the National League in Switzerland, where he spent the 2020-21 season, totalling nine goals and eight assists in 21 games.
After the dust had settled on the frenzied opening days of NHL free-agency, Perlini signed with the Oilers on Aug. 7 – a one-year, two-way contract with an average annual value of $750,000. The nature of the deal spoke volumes: he was getting the league-minimum salary with no guarantee of a spot in the NHL. It was a risk-free signing for the Oilers that put the onus on him to prove his worth in the top league in the world.
Perlini a Preseason Sensation
Prove himself he did. The Guildford, England product scored in Edmonton’s first preseason game, a 4-0 victory over the Calgary Flames. He followed that up with a two-goal performance against the Seattle Kraken in the next game. In his third appearance, he scored the Oilers’ lone goal in a 2-1 overtime loss to Seattle, and in their preseason finale, a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks, he was named the game’s first star after scoring a terrific goal.
That was the closing argument on Perlini’s slam-dunk case to start the regular season in Edmonton. As hard as it would have been to imagine just a couple of months earlier, it came as little surprise when he was included in the opening-night lineup.
The addition of Perlini had fans near giddy. Not only was his humble journey back to the NHL a feel-good story come true, but he was also a legit offensive talent at a bargain price, who could provide the much-needed depth scoring behind Leon Draisaitl and McDavid.
Perlini Never Got Rolling
Producing in the preseason is one thing, but as Edmonton and Perlini quickly found out, making an impact when games count is something else altogether. Slotted in on the Oilers’ fourth line, he averaged less than seven minutes a game in the first four games. He was then made a healthy scratch, beginning a trend that would increasingly find him in the Rogers Place press box instead of on the Oilers’ bench.
While he did appear in 11 of the first 15 games, he didn’t produce and fell out of favour. Fast. He suited up just once after Nov. 23, logging a mere 6:29 of ice time while posting a minus-one rating and no shots in Edmonton’s 4-3 loss to Seattle last Friday (Dec. 3). As of his last appearance, the Oilers were 7-6 with him in the lineup and 8-0 when he didn’t dress – they’re now 8-2 without him.
Oilers Expected Move
The writing was on the wall, and, on Tuesday, the Oilers waived Perlini to make room for forward Devin Shore, who was activated off injured reserve. Perlini spent 24 hours on waivers when of the NHL’s 31 other teams could have claimed him. They didn’t.
He now reports to Bakersfield, where he’ll join a Condors team that could use some offensive help; they have scored 41 goals, the second-fewest in the AHL. His AHL resume is limited but impressive. He scored 14 goals in just 17 games with the Tucson Roadrunners in 2016-17.
Perlini may not have had a fair opportunity in Edmonton. He was in and out of the lineup and played sporadically in those games he was on the roster. But life in hockey isn’t always fair. The fact is, he is primarily known for putting the puck in the net, and he’s scored one NHL goal in his last 53 regular-season games dating back over two calendar years. While his fairy tale of redemption has been injected with a dose of reality, the book hasn’t closed on Perlini; this may just be his next chapter.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.