62 games. 13 goals, 14 assists, plus-16 rating. Not bad for a rookie.
But before he closed the book on his first year in the National Hockey League, he had one thing left to do.
He pushed open the blue double doors to exit the locker room, stepped into the long corridor that surrounds the rink and his jaw nearly hit the floor. Two long groups of tables were set up in the backstage hallway, each spanning the entire length of the ice rink. The tables held hundreds of team posters, pucks, photographs, jerseys, sticks and more, each one awaiting an autograph from Perron.
It was just another day in the life of a professional athlete.
“I’ve learned all kinds of little details you don’t think would make a difference, but it actually does,” Perron said about learning to be a pro as he picked up a Sharpie and began to sign team posters one-by-one. “You learn to deal with your coaches, teammates, trainers and everybody. You’ve got to sign autographs, do charities, all kinds of stuff like that. There’s a lot (to being a pro).”
The autographed memorabilia, it turns out, is collected as the players leave for summer and is donated to charities, sponsors and volunteers as a way of saying thank you for supporting the Blues.
Perron has learned about this and a lot more, coming a long way in a very short amount of time. In his first year of draft eligibility in 2006, each team took a pass on him. Knowing he’d have to work harder to get noticed, Perron played for Lewiston of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and tallied 83 points in 70 games, helping guide his team to a championship.
"There's more than just first round, second round. You're the player you are...when you get a chance to be seen, you've got to perform. Maybe that's what I did. Right place, right moment." - David PerronVideo | Stats | Bio
After leading all QMJHL rookies in goals (39) and plus-minus (+37), Perron got noticed. He went from undrafted to first-round pick by the Blues just one summer later.
“There’s more than just first round, second round. You’re the player you are,” Perron said. “Sometimes you just don’t get to be seen by the scouts. When you get a chance to be seen, you’ve got to perform. Maybe that’s what I did. Right place, right moment.”
Just minutes after getting drafted by the Blues in 2007, Perron told a group of reporters he had every intention of making the team at training camp. Kids his age typically take at least a few years to develop into quality NHL players, but Perron stayed true to his word and began contributing immediately.
“I think it’s about the will to be the kind of player you want to be and the determination to prove people wrong,” said fellow rookie Erik Johnson, who was drafted first overall the year Perron was completely skipped. “I think he had a lot of critics coming up and used that motivation from not being drafted. It’s something I would use. He just kind of willed his way and turned himself into a good player by working hard.”
Perron says he thinks it’s more about being mentally ready.
“You have to think that you can play in this league if you want to play. That’s what I tried to think about (last) summer,” Perron said. “I came prepared to make the team at camp and obviously I had a lot to learn, but my teammates and coaches were there to help me.”
Perron’s rookie season was not without controversy, as fans and the media alike cried out about his playing time, the situations he was used in, his linemates and just about everything else, but no one questioned his heart and determination. Before he was inserted into the lineup for his first NHL game, the 19-year-old could be seen in the locker room after games, still wearing his suit and tie, stick handling with a puck on the carpet. His passion for the game was unmistakable.
“There’s not one day I don’t think about hockey. There’s not one day even in the summer,” he said. “Even if I don’t play hockey, I’m still going to think about it.”
|In his rookie season, Perron recorded 13 goals and 14 assists in 62 games (Getty Images). |
“The more I watched him, the more I noticed how strong he is with the puck,” said Blues forward Lee Stempniak. “On the boards, he was hanging on to the puck or taking it away from bigger guys. Between having those skills when he has the puck in open ice and being able to get it himself, those are two things that immediately jump out at you.”
Perron admits that having limited playing time as a rookie was hard. He says he wanted to play every game, but insists that learning to deal with adversity is a big part of becoming a pro.
“You just let the coaches make the decision and when you’re on the ice, you play hockey and do your best,” he said. “That’s how I managed to play better in the last part of the season.”
Perron is using the summer to improve his game in hopes of contributing more this upcoming season. As he continued to autograph team posters, he said he’d like to improve his all-around skill, have a quicker shot and a better one timer. He wants to get stronger without losing his agility, and of course, he'd like to score more goals.
"If I score 40, I wouldn't mind it," Perron joked, but there was a bit of seriousness in his tone. "But we'll see. If it's 20, it's 20, if it's 30, it's 30. I'll work to score as many goals as I can to make the team win."
He knows this summer is big for him if he hopes to help the team to its first playoff berth since 2004. All in all, though, Perron is satisfied with his rookie year.
“There’s always stuff that you’re proud that you’ve done, but there’s always stuff that you’re like ‘yeah, I could have done better there,’” he said as he signed the last team poster.
He was now officially cleared to go home, but he stood up to focus on finishing his thought.
Even though hockey season is over, he wasn't ready to stop talking about it.
“You can’t look backward, you’ve got to look forward,” he continued. “I’m proud of my first season and I’m proud of what my teammates and coaches did for me to help me be the kind of player I am right now.”