On Saturday, August 7, the Edmonton Oilers signed free-agent forward Brendan Perlini to a one-year, two-way contract with an average annual value of $750,000.
Perlini, 25, is a veteran of four NHL seasons, scoring at a rate of nearly once every five games over stints with the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. He spent 2020-21 in Switzerland, totaling nine goals and eight assists in 21 games with HC Ambri-Piotta of the National League.
While the 6-foot-3 winger can play either the right or left side, cracking Edmonton’s lineup won’t come easy for Perlini, given the Oilers are flush with forwards and depth on the wings. From the Oilers’ perspective, this is a no-risk, potentially rewarding move by general manager Ken Holland. For Perlini, this is a fresh start at an NHL career that held so much promise when he was drafted 12th overall by Arizona in 2014.
Some projections had Perlini going as high as inside the top 10 of the 2014 NHL Draft. He had racked up 34 goals and 37 assists in just 58 regular season Ontario Hockey League (OHL) games for the Niagara IceDogs, and there was every thought he could become a top-line scoring winger. With strong vision, puck control and possession, breakaway speed, a blistering shot, and effectiveness in all zones, he drew comparisons to Bobby Ryan.
Over his final three OHL seasons, 2013-14 to 2015-16, Perlini pumped in 85 goals over 158 games, an average of 0.54 per game. He had seven goals in 11 games in the 2015 Playoffs and scored six times in 14 postseason games in 2016.
Perlini began the 2016-17 season in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Tucson Roadrunners. After scoring 11 goals in his first 16 games, tying for the league lead, he was called up to the Coyotes on Dec. 4, 2016. He played only one more game in the AHL that season, potting a hat trick to total 14 goals in 17 games with the Roadrunners, a whopping 0.82 goals-per-game pace.
In his first three NHL seasons, Perlini scored at a clip of around 20 goals per 82 games. His 82-game rate was 20.14 as a rookie in 2016-17 (14 goals in 57 games) and 18.84 (17 in 74) the following season. He started the 2018-19 season slow, scoring just twice in 22 games for the Coyotes, but after being traded to the Hawks he produced at a rate of 21.39 goals per 82 games (12 in 46).
His only prolonged major scoring drought came in until his most recent NHL season, 2019-20, when he managed one mere goal in 40 games between Chicago and Detroit. Despite this, with 46 goals in 239 games, his NHL career average is nearly 16 per 82 games.
It’s a safe bet that as he considered signing Perlini, Holland had plenty of input from Edmonton’s head coach Dave Tippett. Tippett was head coach in Arizona when Perlini was drafted. He was also behind the bench for Perlini’s rookie NHL season with the Coyotes. So, if anyone has a sense for what the forward could contribute, it would be the man who shook hands with the No. 12-overall pick on stage at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia during the 2014 Draft.
An understanding of Perlini’s playing style is important, but even more so is insight into his character. Tippett was around Perlini during his formative time in the NHL, and how the forward handled challenges then could be indicative of his mindset now.
Time away from the NHL can provide growth and perspective, something Edmonton keenly appreciates after Jesse Puljujarvi enjoyed a wonderful return to the Oilers in 2020-21 following a season in Finland.
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That Perlini took a two-way contract to come back to North America suggests the winger is willing to work for another shot in the NHL. For Edmonton, there is really nothing to lose by taking a flyer on the former first-rounder: if he proves himself worthy of a spot in the Oilers lineup, Perlini will be a bargain. If not, his contract can be buried in the minors where he should at least be able to produce offensively for the Bakersfield Condors.
Either way, it’s an intriguing storyline to watch as the days count down to Edmonton’s first pre-season game of 2021, Sept. 26 against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome.
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.