With Vancouver hosting the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, there was speculation that the Canucks might make a splash. On Day 2, they did exactly that, trading for J.T. Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Perhaps it wasn’t a different splash than people were expecting, but it still made waves.
It wasn’t, however, the only trade the Canucks made at the draft. Later in the day, they made a minor move, trading Tom Pyatt and a sixth-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for Francis Perron and a seventh-round pick.
It seemed like an odd trade at the time — why move down in the draft and not pick up additional draft picks? — but in retrospect, it’s an intriguing move. For the price of a slightly-lower chance of drafting an NHL forward, they turned the 32-year-old Pyatt, whose NHL days could be behind him, into the 23-year-old Perron, who still has NHL potential. Now the Canucks have signed Perron, who was a restricted free agent, to a one-year, two-way contract. Reports indicate the contract is worth $715,000 in the NHL, $100,000 in the AHL.
According to NextGen Hockey, the sixth-round pick (164th overall) would statistically have a 10% chance of resulting in an NHL player, while the seventh-round pick (215th overall) has a 5% chance of producing an NHL player. Those aren’t great odds either way, but there’s still a chance. The Canucks used the seventh-round pick on Arvid Costmar, a player with flaws, but intriguing upside. There’s a chance that he could defy the odds and make the NHL.
Perron himself is in the process of defying those odds. He was a seventh-round pick back in 2014, drafted by the Ottawa Senators. Despite some bumps along the way, he’s been on an upward trajectory ever since.
After he was drafted, Perron developed exactly the way teams hope from their late-round picks. After 55 points in 68 QMJHL games in his draft year, he improved significantly in the next season, scoring 29 goals and 76 points in 64 games.
Then, in 2015-16, he was outright dominant in the QMJHL, racking up 41 goals and 108 points in 62 games to finish second in league scoring. He was a beast in the postseason, leading the QMJHL playoffs in scoring with 12 goals and 33 points in 18 games. He captained the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies to the QMJHL championship, then had 8 points in 5 games at the Memorial Cup, coming just short in overtime against the powerhouse London Knights, who were led by Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk.
For his efforts, Perron was named the QMJHL MVP of both the regular season and playoffs. That’s the kind of progression that would be stunning to see from a second or third-round pick, let alone a seventh-round pick. Suddenly, Perron looked like the steal of the 2014 draft.
Then the AHL provided a reality check.
One of the reasons Perron fell so far in the 2014 draft was his slight frame. While not overly short at 6’0”, he weighed just 166 lbs when he was drafted. Even that isn’t a huge concern, as talent, technique, and core strength can overcome that kind of size disadvantage, as Elias Pettersson amply proved last season. The trouble for Perron is that he didn’t really gain any weight after he was drafted.
After his spectacular 2015-16 campaign, two years after he was drafted, Perron actually weighed less than he did in 2014. Heading into that summer, he put his own weight at 163 or 162 pounds, though he made the point that he lost weight during the long grind of the playoffs. His stated goal? 175 lbs by main training camp with the Senators.
Three years after that first training camp, Perron is still listed at just 178 lbs. That’s not unworkable as a playing weight in the NHL — Sebastian Aho just put up 30 goals and 83 points at about that size — but it hasn’t helped.
The quicker pace and more physical play of the AHL seemed to set the slighter Perron back. In his rookie professional season, the 20 year old managed just 6 goals and 26 points in 68 games. He spoke to that adjustment with the Senators’ website during that rough first season.
“For me, it's the bigger guys,” he said. “Obviously, I'm not a big guy so it was a big adjustment for me. I'd also say my time to react on the ice. In Junior, I had a lot of time and space and I could do my thing and make plays but in the pros you don't have a lot of time with the puck and you have to know what to do with the puck even before you have it.
“It's different but I think I've learned a lot and at first it wasn't easy. The ice-time wasn't always there but over the year I've learned a lot. I feel better, my confidence is better so I think it's all in your head. When your confidence is there you can make plays and just do your thing.”
That confidence certainly wasn’t there in his second AHL season. It was hoped that Perron would take a big step forward after his disappointing rookie season. Instead, he floundered, tallying just 4 goals and 15 points in 44 games.
Perron’s performance that season was complicated by injury issues and some troubling usage with the Belleville Senators. He played primarily with terrible linemates, spending the vast majority of his ice time on the third and fourth lines, while barely playing on the power play despite a skillset tailor-made for the man advantage.
Belleville’s coach, the quickly-fired Kurt Kleinendorst, endorsed a veterans-first mentality, and Perron suffered as a result. So did the Senators, who finished in 28th out of 30 teams in the AHL.
Someone saw some potential in Perron, however, as the San Jose Sharks negotiated for him to be part of the Erik Karlsson trade. Doug Wilson Jr, the team’s Director of Scouting, made it clear: “We targeted him in the Ottawa trade as the extra piece.”
With the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda, the 22-year-old Perron finally broke through. He finished second on the Barracuda in scoring, with 18 goals and 47 points in 63 games.
“In the last two years, I haven’t really had an offensive role,” said Perron early in the season. “When I got traded, the staff with the Barracuda, [Barracuda GM] Joe Will, told me right away that they wanted to give me a chance. That motivated me to be ready and to show them that I can be an offensive guy in the AHL to start the year. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.”
Timo Meier, who was Perron’s teammate with the Huskies, was thrilled the Sharks acquired Perron in the Karlsson trade.
“All the guys were obviously talking about Karlsson,” said Meier. “I told them, ‘The other guy we got isn’t a bad player either. Watch out for this guy.’ I’m excited he’s getting a chance to show what he’s capable of.”
“He’s a guy that puts up points when you get him out there with top-six guys,” he added. “When I was playing with him, you give him the puck in front of the net, he’s going to put it in. He gets to the areas where he can use his shot and be dangerous.”
Perron was a standout for the Barracuda, even if he slowed towards the end of the season. He proved what he believed all along: he deserved offensive opportunities and could produce when given the chance.
“He deserves a look,” said Barracuda coach Roy Sommer, praising his 200-foot game. “He just needs that chance at the next level.”
That chance won’t be in San Jose; will he get his first NHL game in Canucks colours?
There’s certainly a chance. It wouldn’t be the first time a late-round pick took a roundabout route to the NHL. Perron has high-end skill, great vision, and an accurate shot — he notably tied Reid Boucher in the accuracy contest at the AHL All-Star Skills Competition last season. He also has NHL-caliber skating and has repeatedly been lauded for the way he developed his defensive game despite his struggles early in his AHL career.
One player that did exactly what Perron is trying to do is Mike Hoffman, who Perron drew comparisons to even before his struggles in the AHL. Like Perron, Hoffman broke out in the QMJHL after his first year of draft eligibility, then suffered a setback in his rookie AHL campaign.
While Hoffman found his feet in the AHL faster than Perron, it still took him until he was 25 to play his first full season in the NHL, at which point he started piling up the goals and points. Hoffman’s had five-straight 20+ goal seasons and hit a career high of 70 points last season with the Florida Panthers.
Hoffman is an outlier, of course. Most impact players make the NHL a lot sooner, but it’s still a beacon of hope for a player like Perron, who heard those Hoffman comparisons in his years with the Senators. Perhaps there’s a chance that Perron can not only make the NHL but be a legitimate top-six forward.
“Next year, I think Perron will be a really good guy to watch in training camp,” said Wilson Jr. Instead of Sharks fans watching Perron at camp, it will be Canucks fans.
While Perron is an obvious longshot to make the Canucks out of camp, perhaps it’s not as outlandish as it seems. The Canucks have bid farewell to Markus Granlund, Antoine Roussel is likely to still be on the IR, Nikolay Goldobin’s future is up in the air, and who knows what the Canucks plan to do with veterans like Loui Eriksson and Tim Schaller. The Canucks were willing to waive Sam Gagner last year when Tyler Motte excelled in the preseason; maybe a similar scenario could occur with Perron.
If not, Perron will have to go on waivers, at which point another team that sees his potential could claim him to give him his NHL shot.
Whatever happens, Perron has already gotten farther than most seventh-round picks. He’s on the verge of fulfilling a lifelong dream of playing in the NHL. Now the Canucks just have to hope he has even more to give.