Photo Credit: Norm Hall
At the start of the 2006-07 season, no one thought the Phoenix Coyotes would be in need of centermen. The team believed they were secure up the middle with the likes of Steven Reinprecht, Jeremy Roenick, Mike Comrie, Joel Perrault, Dave Scatchard, Mike Zigomanis as well as Mike Ricci, who was recovering from a neck injury.
But early in the season, Reinprecht suffered a broken collarbone, and the Coyotes were short on depth. There were no trades that appealed to Coyotes General Manager Michael Barnett at the time, but there was one unsigned player that Barnett thought might be a perfect fit in the desert. Enter Yanick Perreault.
At the beginning of the season, Perreault was a free agent recovering from off-season surgery to repair a sports hernia. He elected not to sign with a team until he had fully recovered from his surgery. By October, many teams were courting Perreault, but he ultimately chose to sign with the Coyotes October 29.
"(The Coyotes) showed a lot of interest to sign me," said Perreault. "I had a chance to play with Wayne (Gretzky) as a player, which I was fortunate and now I have him as a coach and I am fortunate again. I played here in 1994 with the RoadRunners, so I know the area. I love (Phoenix) and I think this is a good fit for me."
Perreault, 35, had four days to practice with his new teammates before playing in his first game of the season. Though he was still trying to get his body into game shape, Perreault knew he shouldn't put too much pressure on himself.
"I didn't have any expectations for myself, just get back to 100-percent," said Perreault.
Perreault was held scoreless in his first game, but had two assists in his second game of the year; a 6-4 Coyotes win over the Los Angeles Kings. He would be kept off the score sheet in his third game, but his stick came to life on November 11 against San Jose. Perreault scored his first goal as a Coyote and then went on a tear. In just 11-games this season, the Coyotes top centerman now leads the club with seven goals.
In a year where goals have been tough to come by for Phoenix, Perreault doesn't seem to have any problems lighting the lamp.
"Right now I am trying to keep it simple and trying to get as many shots as I can," said Perreault. "Every game that is my goal, every time I get a good scoring chance I try to shoot the puck more which I didn't do in my first few games here I was just trying to find my way on the ice. Now I am trying to help the team win some games; it's always more fun when you win some games."
Over the course of his 13-year NHL career, critics have charged that Perreault's skating is less than perfect, but he doesn't mind the talk. With over 200 career goals and a good shot at reaching the 500-point plateau this season, Perreault knows full well the kind of player he is and the player he needs to be.
"I think I'll never be a pretty skater and I'll never carry the puck from one end (of the ice) to the other end," said Perreault. "Like I told many young guys, I never saw anybody skating faster than the puck, so I try to move the puck quick and I can get to where I get.
"I'll never be a pretty skater, but it's hard to be good at everything. I try to be strong on face-offs and create some good things offensively and be reliable in my own end. That's the main thing I try and do every year."
Doing the little things has made Perreault a very valuable commodity in the Coyotes organization. Perreault who has been regarded around the league as one of the best face-off men knows that and enjoys the accolades for his success in the face-off circle, a trait he takes very seriously.
"I try to take face-offs in different ways," said Perreault. "You have some centermen that always take face-offs the same way. I try not to be predictable. I try to win every face-off. If it's a neutral zone face-off for me it's as important as a defensive zone face-off. You need to send a message every time. You need to tell the other guys it's going to be a battle and that's what I am trying to do."
Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky has repeatedly praised Perreault for his play and what he means to his team.
"He's been a nice fit for our team," said Gretzky. "When we went into the season, no one anticipated Reinprecht and Comrie missing as much time as they did. It's tough to find centermen out there. For us to find a centermen at the level of quality that he's at is pretty remarkable. It's pretty lucky and pretty fortunate."
Perreault's scoring ability has been an added bonus for the Coyotes, however it's the little things he does so well that make him invaluable. The Coyotes are starting to get healthy with Doan and Ricci back in the lineup and with Mike Comrie returning this month, the addition of Perreault may be just what Phoenix needs to get back into contention and make a run at the post-season.