If you’ve been following OTF for a while now, you’ve seen Eric’s amazing prospect reports every year. He does a great job breaking down a prospect’s skills and where they should fall in the draft. What I want to do with this series is take a look at some of my favorite prospects from another angle: how would they fit into Nashville’s prospect pool? I’ll look at things like star probability, underlying numbers, and what I think of a player from my watches to give you all the reasons why you should want the player.
For my third player in this series, I’ll be looking at Jacob Perreault, a 5’11” winger/center from the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. Perreault is by consensus one of the best offensive difference makers in the draft, with skills that would ordinarily make him a pick at the high end of the first round, but thanks to concerns about his effort and defense (as well as 2020 being a pretty loaded class), he’s fallen to late first round/early second round status. You can read Eric’s scouting report about him here.
Jacob Perreault, Forward, Sarnia Sting
Ranked 21st in Bob McKenzie’s final draft board (a ranking that closely reflects the pulse of scouts and GMs’ thoughts on prospects), he falls within the range that we expect the Predators to be picking, and he could realistically fall even further—Arthur Kaliyev, a player with a very similar profile, was 21st on last year’s list and ended up falling to the 33rd pick. Should the Predators take a risk on the talented but frustrating forward? I’ll make the case for why the answer is yes below.
What makes him good?
Let’s go over the three key reasons:
1.) He has enormous upside
You aren’t going to find a guy with a better ceiling this late in the draft, in my humble opinion. Out of all of the players in the 2020 draft, Byron Bader’s NHLe model gives Perreault the sixth-highest probability of becoming a star at the NHL level, given the historical trends surrounding prospects that have produced like he has. Watching Perreault, he has good speed, clean skating, outstanding hands and a great shot that he can rip from practically anywhere. Not many guys have that combination of abilities in this draft, let alone players who you’ll likely see at the end of the first round.
His hockey IQ can be a little uneven at times, but he’s pretty frequently brilliant when he gets established in the offensive zone and while he clearly has a ton of work to do in the neutral zone and off the puck, he’s shown flashes there too. He’s a guy who draft interviews are going to be big for, because if he proves to be coachable his ceiling will be absurdly high.
2.) His shot and hands are lethal
Watching those clips, you’ve probably picked up on something: the guy can score from anywhere, at any time. He’s an absolute fiend around the net, and loves to pick the short side apart from in close. That goal scoring is especially potent on the power play, where he always seems to be in the right spot. He can function in a playmaking role with his solid vision and passing touch, but this guy is out there to score a goal every time his skates touch the ice. With a shot as hard and accurate as his, that’s a desirable mentality.
Something that maybe gets glossed over a bit with Perreault is his ability to make great adjustments in tight spaces, especially in response to stick lifts or poke checking. He’s built pretty well (198 pounds this season) and does a great job of boxing out defenders en route to pantsing goalies in the net-front area. He’s not a guy who’s probably going to deke you out of your skates in the neutral zone, but when he has a chance to drive the net and score, he’s going to make it happen nine times out of ten. You’re looking at a deadly goalscorer.
3.) He’s a creative, potentially special offensive talent
Watching the clips above, you don’t really feel like Perreault is creative in the typical “playmaker” sense, but I think that’s because he demands a bit more context. He’s a wizard with the puck on his stick, just not in that specific highlight reel. He consistently pulls off high-skill moves and can embarrass very talented opposition (Jamie Drysdale, Ryan O’Rourke), and while he has a lot to clean up—he tends to play hero hockey too much—a lot of his negative plays could be chalked up to him feeling the burden of playing on a pretty bad OHL team in Sarnia. This assist is a better example.
This is a guy who can project to be a true star or even a superstar if he really puts it all together at the NHL level. If presented to take a guy with above average or elite shooting talent, creativity, and skating, I’ll take the risk every time, and Perreault absolutely fits that bill.
Why is he a good fit in Nashville?
I love Perreault as a potential fit for many reasons, but here are the big three:
1.) The pipeline doesn’t have many true difference-makers on offense
Perreault would instantly be the most electric player in the prospect pool minus Philip Tomasino, and he has a chance to be even better by the time he’s ready for the AHL. The only thing that needs to improve in the offensive end is his tendency of trying to do too much, and as Sarnia improves over time I have full faith it’ll disappear. In my eyes he has the second or third best ability in the whole draft to score goals, and is only clearly behind Alexander Holtz, the consensus top sniper in this class. His passing ability is already very good and could be incredible with the touch and skill he’s shown.
2.) He’d have the highest ceiling of any prospect the organization has taken in a long, long time
The last time the Predators really took a shot at a boom-or-bust prospect in the late first? Arguably Alex Radulov, and while that ended pretty poorly, it started off really well! Afanasyev has a high ceiling, as does Tomasino, but Perreault has the ability to become a truly monstrous offensive threat and a top-end goalscorer. That’s something worth adding to a team that hasn’t had a bonafide homegrown superstar forward in its entire history.
The Predators tend to play it safe in drafts, but this could signal that they’re looking to field a team with more skill, speed, and scoring than ever before when this new group of players reaches the NHL. We’ve seen a slow trend in that direction with the drafting of Kevin Fiala and Eeli Tolvanen, and I’d love to add another guy who can truly rip the puck to what’s become a promising young core.
3.) He’s a monster on the power play
Of Perreault’s 70 points, 29 came on the power play, with 15 goals and 14 assists. Watching film (from my five-game sample size), he’s constantly sitting in the slot, winning 1v1 matchups, and commanding defenders with authority. He’s the kind of guy who could easily function as a primary shooter on a top power play unit—his one-timer is LETHAL—or as a quarterbacking winger along the boards.
He's the type of dynamic presence that Nashville has been missing with the skater advantage for so long, and while he wouldn't be able to solve this current team’s woes (being an 18 year old with a lot to fix), he certainly would be a huge addition to the unit in the future. Him scoring 20 power play goals every year while Tomasino dishes him the puck is the stuff that my dreams are made of, y'all.
Who does he compare to?
I don’t love doing direct comparables, because they tend to hype players up too much, so I tend to give my floor of what the player could be if they become an NHLer, a middling projection, and my ceiling under the same circumstances.
Floor: Taylor Leier
While Perreault is far more skilled and offensively talented than Leier ever was, he’s also significantly worse at defense and has massive effort questions. If he never corrects his detrimental qualities and still makes it to the NHL, he’s going to be a guy that goes between the AHL and NHL due to his inability to fulfill the typical “fourth-liner” role. That’s where Leier is stuck at, although on his part it isn’t due to a lack of effort; he just isn’t sound enough in his own end that coaches feel comfortable playing him in the bottom six.
Mid: Robby Fabbri
Fabbri was an electrifying winger who had his career derailed by injury. I’m accounting for Perreault’s mid-tier potential by saying he’d fall somewhere in between Fabbri’s current status (bad to mediocre winger on an awful team) and his rookie status (the next big thing in St. Louis, future 70+ point player, etc etc). Fabbri and Perreault are both guys with ample skill and speed, but both struggle defensively. If Perreault fixes his effort issues but is still a below average defender, which could be pretty realistic, he falls in this area, where he’s still probably a 45-50 point player with 25-goal output and added value on the power play.
Ceiling: Kyle Connor
Kyle Connor was an awful defensive player this year. Kyle Connor also scored the sixth-most goals in the NHL this year before the season paused (38 in 71 games) and was 15th in points. He has a similarly lethal shot, similarly great offensive instincts, and overall is just very... similar to Perreault.
The main difference between the two in their draft year is that Connor was, at that time, a significantly better defender and two-way player, with no questions surrounding his effort on a given night. Still, this is who I can see Perreault becoming: a guy with great finishing ability who scores 30-40 goals and 80-ish points, AKA a superstar by Nashville standards. While I doubt he’ll ever be an analytics darling by shot impacts, with his abysmal defense and tendency to shoot from anywhere at any time, I still think he could be a great addition to the Predators’ forward corps.
What’s the final word?
Perreault is the embodiment of what I want Nashville to move towards; skilled, high-risk high-reward prospects. Despite a number of glaring flaws, he’s probably the most exciting player the Preds could realistically add, barring a move into the top ten (yay for this year’s wonky draft lottery) or the unexpected fall of another top prospect. I’d be ecstatic if the team drafted him and would probably be his biggest fan in Nashville from day one. I really, really want to see an electrifying, high-scoring forward play in front of our fans—the closest we’ve seen in the modern era is a rookie Filip Forsberg—and I think Perreault could fill the hole in our hearts that Paul Kariya’s departure left.