Even as the days without an NHL contract turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months, Brendan Perlini wasn't sitting at home wringing his hands with worry.
Perlini isn't a sweat-the-small-stuff type of guy. Instead, the Blackhawks winger is more of a live-in-the-moment free spirit so he spent the summer traveling and improving his mind and body while his agent and Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman negotiated a one-year contract extension for the restricted free agent worth $874,125 that was finally agreed upon Sept. 6.
"Whether you sign on the first day of the offseason or the last day before training camp, as long as you have a contract coming in it doesn't really matter," Perlini said. "For me, the summer was great. I planned it really well training-wise and schedule-wise. I did a lot of traveling to work with different people and I let my agent and Stan kind of take care of all of that stuff. I was working hard and improving on the hockey side and I enjoyed a bit of the summer at the same time too."
As Perlini speaks, he is kicked back in a stall in the dressing room at the the Blackhawks' practice facility looking as if he doesn't have a care in the world.
That is by design. During the 2018-19 season when he was part of the Nov. 25 trade that also brought Dylan Strome from the Coyotes for Nick Schmaltz, Perlini often found himself on an emotional roller coaster depending on what happened from shift to shift and game to game. These days, Perlini is determined to focus on the positives and keep things loose on and off the ice.
"I think sometimes you get to a certain stage where guys put so much pressure on themselves that they almost stop enjoying it to a certain extent," Perlini said. "You never really like to go through highs and lows on a roller coaster but the low times last year was when I learned where my joy in the game was. Why am I playing? I'm not playing for money, I'm not playing for this person or playing for my parents. I'm playing because I enjoy the game and I love the game. You almost have to have a kid's mentality.
"Sometimes you forget we're in the NHL," Perlini continued. "I worked my whole entire life to get here so I'm not going to be miserable now because I made one bad play or bad pass. I'm going to enjoy every second. If I made a bad play? So what - it's water off a duck's back and I'm going to go back next time and make a good play. That's kind of how I try to outlook it and look at the big picture and life in general."
At 23, Perlini is wise beyond his years and he credits that to an insatiable desire to improve himself through reading and learning about what he calls "the mind/body connection."
"I just love learning," Perlini said. "You name it, I love to be like a child learning new things every day. Think of a kid: They learn how to walk, they learn how to talk and then write and then when you get to adult stage you're like, 'what really have I learned in the last little bit?' So every day, whether it's in hockey or outside of it like finance or this or that, that's how I try to outlook life. That keeps it big picture so I don't really sweat the small stresses of life."
Perlini and the Blackhawks hope that mindset translates into a more productive player during the '19-20 season. After scoring 14 goals and adding seven assists-including 12 and three in 46 games with the Blackhawks-last season, the belief is there is another level for Perlini to reach.
Video: ARI@CHI: Perlini records his first career hat trick
"We saw he had flashes of greatness last year (so) it's just a matter of the consistency for him," Bowman said. "His best game is really impressive and it can help us. If we can get that to come out more often, then it will be good for the team."
Coach Jeremy Colliton believes for Perlini to take the next step he has to improve when he doesn't have the puck.
"He's got tremendous ability, great skater, great shot," Colliton said. "He plays with joy. He's excited. He loves being at the rink. We just want him to influence play away from the puck. Work hard to get it back for himself and his linemates because when he's on offense he's extremely dangerous."
How exactly can a player influence play away from the puck?
"Get to top speed away from it," Colliton said. "Whether that is back pressure to help our D, whether we're causing turnovers through the neutral zone or allowing our D to force a dump (and) deny clean entry, it's those things.
"On the other side of it, race the F1 to the other end, get on the forecheck, force the opposition's defense to make plays before they're prepared to to force turnovers (and then) you create chances for your linemates and you get to play in the offensive zone," Colliton added. "Everyone can do that as far as their work ethic and he's a tremendous skater so the more he does it he's going to be extremely effective."
Video: Brendan Perlini on one-year extension
Perlini understands the message. Now he just has to implement it.
"Obviously, everyone likes to play with the puck," Perlini said. "To us, it's little battles, stuff like that. Creating space for different guys in certain situations and using your body well. Those are all little things. I'm still young, 23, and improving my body and learning how to use it. With a big frame (6-foot-3, 211 pounds) that's going to come. As long as I keep working hard on it I'll keep improving."
Is learning to be impactful away from the puck more mental or physical?
"A bit of both," said Perlini, who has 45 goals and 27 assists in 199 career NHL games. "Sometimes it could be reading the play a little bit different. Sometimes it might be a technical thing, 'OK, maybe stand like this instead of standing like this.' You can't really speak for one specific thing because the game is so fast out there that it happens in a split-second. It's easy to sit and say I should have done this or that.
"Make the decision, go with the decision, trust in it, trust in your ability," he added. "If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. Do it better next time. That's where it's at. Keep improving and keep trying to get better. As long as I keep working hard and being relentless out there and having fun that's the main thing."