On Tuesday evening, the National Hockey League held the first round of its 2020 NHL Entry Draft live from its studio in Secaucus, New Jersey, and from the living rooms of the league’s newest players. Fans tuned in across the world to watch the New York Rangers select star left winger Alexis Lafreniere first overall.
New York became the first team since 1983 to both compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then also select first overall in that year’s draft. In 1983, the Minnesota North Stars found themselves in that position following a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, to which they selected Brian Lawton. On Tuesday, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton took Lafreniere at No. 2 overall.
Jets fans had to wait another nine picks to hear the Winnipeg selection committee make its choice. After seeing Quinton Byfield, Tim Stutzle, Lucas Raymond, Jake Sanderson, Jamie Drysdale, Alexander Holtz, Jack Quinn, and Marco Rossi go No. 2 through nine, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff stepped up and handed the reins to the wife of the late Dale Hawerchuk, Crystal, who made the selection of Saginaw Spirit forward Cole Perfetti.
“It was definitely a nerve-wracking moment,” Perfetti said post-draft. “You work so hard your entire life for this moment, you just want to be picked and you want to go to an organization that will give you an opportunity, that cares for you, that wants you there. So, I think the Jets is a great pick and a great spot for me, and I can’t wait to get there and get going. But it was definitely the longest hour-and-a-half of my life but the best hour-and-a-half of my life. I’ll never forget it.”
“We were surprised,” Cheveldayoff said following the selection. “We were getting pretty excited as things started to unfold in front of us. Our list was something that seemed to be going pretty tight, and then all of a sudden it spread apart, so it was exciting to sit there and see his name pop up. We think that he is a player that just has tremendous hockey sense and really good skill. We know that that hockey sense will translate well into the style of game that we want to play and that’s being played today.”
A 5-foot-10, 180-pound, Whitby, Ontario product, Perfetti is the centreman that the Jets have long needed to fulfill that second-line role. Ridiculously talented, he has unbelievable hands and finish. Perfetti creates elite chances and is magnificent in and around the net. His patience with the puck and ability to wait for lanes to open up are unreal. His dangles are incredible, and he’s able to score highlight-reel goals.
“It’s awesome, it’s a great feeling,” Perfetti said immediately after his selection. “I’ve worked my entire life to get to this point and to be drafted by such a great organization like the Winnipeg Jets, it’s pretty surreal and I can’t wait to get things going. It’s going to be awesome, growing up dreaming of being as good as (John Tavares) and now getting to have the chance to play against him, it definitely is a dream come true, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Perfetti’s goal scoring ability is top-notch, and he can score goals from far out. He’s a natural finisher who finds another gear when there’s an opportunity. Although slightly undersized, he is very good at making everyone think he’s shooting and then push a pass cross-ice to catch opponents napping. Perfetti is an elite, elite offensive talent who very well could fill in as a winger if need be as well. And clearly, he has a chip on his shoulder.
“Obviously I’m ecstatic to be a Winnipeg Jet, but there were nine other teams that passed on me,” he said. “I’m going to come in trying to prove myself. At the end of the day I want to be the best player this draft and leave a legacy. I think it’s going to be by coming in with a chip on my shoulder, playing hungry and hard and establishing that I can make an impact at the next level. It’s going to be important for me to do that right away. I definitely want to prove everyone wrong that passed on me. I’m excited to be a Jet and I think I’m going to have a great career there. I’m really looking forward to it.”