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Southeast: Atlanta is a good fit for Perrin

by Robert Picarello
When the Thrashers came calling with an offer, Eric Perrin knew that Atlanta was the right place for him.
Eric Perrin had a tough decision to make this summer. At age 31, the free-agent forward was coming off his first full NHL season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring 13 goals and adding 23 assists in 82 games. His decision? To decide whether or not to re-sign with Tampa — the club that gave him his first shot at an NHL job — or find another team that was interested in his skills.

It wasn't an easy call. Perrin not only had a history with the Bolts and the confidence of the Lightning coaching staff, but he also had a family to support. His decision was made easier when he found out the Lightning had him slated to center the fourth line this coming season, after playing him on one of the top lines most of last season. So he decided to test the open market.

When the Thrashers came calling with an offer, the Laval, Quebec, native knew that Atlanta was the right place for him.

"There were many factors that made me sign with Atlanta," Perrin said. "To start, I think the organization has shown that they are going in the right direction. Every year they're improving and doing the right things to get themselves in a great situation, like making the playoffs and all. You saw that last year. They played very well all season and fell short in the postseason, but their style of play attracted me to them.”

Not that he has anything bad to say about his former employer.

"I have nothing but great memories when it comes to Tampa,” Perrin said. “They did give me my first chance. I worked hard last year in training camp to gain a spot on the roster, and from there on I knew I had to prove myself on and on, over and over, every day to move up. And when I did, I got those opportunities and wound up getting a lot of ice time. So I'm grateful to them for those opportunities, but we were at a point where I didn't think we saw the same things about how I valued myself with the team. I didn't think that was going to be the best thing for me. So, after having a good season and becoming a free agent, I thought maybe there would be something a little bit better for me, which would be more enticing opportunity-wise."

After going head to head with the Thrashers for the Southeast Division title for most of last season, Perrin knew firsthand what type of club the Thrashers were. It also didn't hurt that Perrin knew Atlanta coach Bob Hartley very well. The two had worked together at Hartley's hockey camp during the summer.

"I just felt like it was a good fit for me with knowing a couple of guys and knowing Bob (Hartley) and his style that he likes to play," Perrin said. "But I didn't make my decision according to my knowing Bob. I just felt I wanted to go to the place that was best suited for me, where I would have the best opportunity to play and contribute something to the team. I wanted to go to a place that would allow me to bring the best that I could to the team and be as productive as I can. That was some of the things I was looking at, where was I going to get the best opportunity to play and what place fit my style of play also, and without a doubt it was Atlanta."

It didn't take long for Perrin to show his new team what he could do. He scored two goals, including the game-winner, in his first pre-season game for Atlanta against the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 16. Perrin was voted the game's second star.

"The whole team played real well," Perrin said. "We knew that their lineup was pretty good. They had most of their (regular) guys, and we had a lot of guys who were just trying to prove something — a lot of young guys. We knew going in that the only way we were going to beat these guys was by outworking them, and I think we did that in our first game. The result was really good, and there were a lot of good things that we saw. It was a good way to get things started — especially for me. Just gaining back some of that confidence is where it starts. You have to feel good about your game and find your game, so to start that way, with a couple goals, made me feel good. It's a great way for me to start my career here in Atlanta and get into it. The season comes so fast, so I was happy to be able to start that way."

Perrin would love nothing more than to have his first season in Atlanta end the way his first call-up in Tampa Bay did. The Lightning called up Perrin from the minors for the last four regular-season games in 2003-04. He impressed the coaching staff so much that the Bolts decided to put him on their playoff roster. Two months later, Perrin owned a Stanley Cup ring after playing in only a handful of regular-season games.

"That year was kind of a surprise," Perrin said. "There were eight games left in the AHL at the time and four games left in the NHL, and at that point I was thinking I wasn't going anywhere. In the AHL we were within one point of making the playoffs and I was the second-leading scorer in the league, so I just didn't expect getting a call to go up. But surprisingly I did get that call with four games remaining. I was told that there was an opportunity for me there to gain a spot on the fourth line. I was given two games (to prove myself) and I wound up playing all four games. Then I started the playoffs and played in the first three rounds. That's how I got my start, and I was glad to be part of that great run."

Now he’s glad to be in Atlanta, where he hopes to make another run at the Stanley Cup.

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