Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
Cole Perfetti loves when the spotlight shines on him whenever he has his skates on and hockey stick in hand. That, however, is not quite the same case off the ice.
The 5-foot-10, 177-pound center from Saginaw of the Ontario Hockey League would sometimes rather fly under the radar than be the subject of discussions about the best prospects in the 2020 NHL Draft.
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Let's just say he's not completely comfortable with nicknames like "Goal" Perfetti or Cole "Perfectti."
"I kind of get a little embarrassed when people talk about me," said Perfetti, an A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list. "I just try to keep an even keel and keep my head level. And sometimes it's a little weird when people are talking about you. So sometimes I wish it was just normal, but it's all good and it's fun. It's pretty cool to have your name talked about like that."
The 17-year-old Ontario native is making little progress in regaining anonymity. After leading all scorers at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup with 12 points (eight goals, four assists) in five games to help Canada finish second, Perfetti ranks fifth in the OHL with 29 points (five goals, 24 assists) in 17 games this season.
He leads Saginaw in scoring and is four points behind Sudbury center Quinton Byfield, another highly regarded 2020 NHL Draft-eligible player who ranks third in the OHL with 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 18 games. Byfield is also an A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list.
"[Perfetti] almost gets embarrassed when people talk about him and his talent, how good he is," Saginaw coach Chris Lazary said. "He just wants to let his performance and his on-ice play speak for him. He does his video, he does his extra work. He just wants to be the best player on the ice, that's what motivates him ... not trying to be what everybody expects.
"He's a special kid that way. He's very humble and just goes about his business and finds ways to get better every day. He wants to be the best and he has that work ethic to match it."
Though he led Saginaw in scoring with 74 points (37 goals, 37 assists) in 63 games as an OHL rookie last season, Perfetti began this season with something to prove.
Many attributed his strong production to the fact he played a lot with talented players such as forwards Owen Tippett (Florida Panthers) and Ryan McLeod (Edmonton Oilers) and defenseman Bode Wilde (New York Islanders). He's well on his way to demonstrating he can generate offense without them.
"Everyone thinks that Cole had the numbers that he had last year because of his linemates, but if you look at his numbers prior to that he was trending in that direction anyway," Lazary said. "He did benefit from playing with those guys but I don't think his numbers were just related to that. He's just an elite talent."
Said Perfetti: "I think I'm doing a good job right now proving them wrong. I don't need an NHL player [on my line] to put up points. I have great partners with [forwards] Cole Coskey and Damien Giroux."
One of Perfetti's highlights was scoring three shootout goals for Canada in a 3-2 win against Sweden in the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup semifinal round. He also scored each regulation goal for Canada in the victory.
"I think I perform my best when there are a lot of people watching and there's a lot on the line," he said. "I can just drive in those games more than the games that don't mean anything. So being able to go in the shootout and be lucky enough to be chosen to shoot four times and score three, I live for those moments. I love playing under pressure, so that was cool.
"This tournament showed me that I could be one of the top guys in the world and produce on the world stage. It was just great for my confidence and I came back with a lot of fire and desire to win."
That's a good sign for Saginaw, which still has big ambitions after losing in seven games against Guelph in the OHL western conference final last year. Though Saginaw lost three of its top five scorers in Tippett, McLeod and Wilde from last season's team, it still relies on its primary spark plug.
"Cole obviously [has] got a unique talent and an unbelievable ability with the offensive side of the game," Lazary said. "He does not just want to score goals, he wants to generate offense for himself and for the whole team. It's no secret that when he goes, our team goes."
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