A funny thing happened after Central Scouting released their mid-term rankings. The play of right wing Corey Perry picked up dramatically. It has not been just because the tall, thin winger dropped from being a potential first rounder to a probable third rounder and he had something to prove. But this undoubtedly has been a factor. Increased confidence and the return of overage center Mike Stathopoulos have been part of his recent success. Whatever the reasons, the London Knights are happy to have this prospect scoring again, as he has potted ten goals in the last thirteen games and has been instrumental in leading the Knights into fifth place in the conference as we head down the stretch to the finish.
Perry had a very successful rookie season with the Knights, played for Team Ontario at the Under 17 championships, got his first taste of playoff hockey against two of the best teams in the OHL, and made a regular contribution at the tender age of sixteen. In August, he helped lead Canada to the Under 18 tournament gold medal and scored a goal in every game. After that things started to sour. When Rick Nash was not returned to London, a lot of pressure was placed on Perry, especially by the local media. Too many people were expecting Nash like numbers from Perry, but Nash was a very special player, which is why he was picked first overall in the NHL 2002 entry draft. I firmly believe that Perry will be a dominant player in the OHL when he is 19, but at 17, on a not so skilled team, one has to settle for being a good player. Even in the early going, the points were there for Perry, but mostly assists and the majority of those came on the power play. His lack of goals and results at even strength received too much press and you could see the pressure get to him and that compounded when the Knights lost key personnel to suspensions and injuries. His play deteriorated and his penalty minutes soared as his frustration grew with his own play and the physical beating that he was taking from opposing teams.
Since the CHL prospects game Perry seems to have turned a corner. He barely snuck into the game as his ranking had dropped considerably, but it seemed to boost his confidence. His skating weaknesses were fully displayed when he posted the second slowest time in the timed race, but he played a decent enough game. He returned to the Knights and found his groove, clicking on the power play once again. The Knights run a half board offence and they move the puck down to the corner, where they make a quick choice, walk out for a shot, fire a pass to the top of the crease where someone is always parked, or move it out high where Dennis Wideman the Buffalo Sabre draft pick is waiting with his heavy slap shot. Perry plays the low corner role and has been moving the puck nicely. The Knights power play has been near the top of the league all year and they are a rare breed of team that scores as much on the power play as they do at even strength. The low post play has worked like a charm with Perry picking up the first assist on many of the goals and he has started to shoot the puck more and he has been finding the back of the net.
So what do you get if you draft Corey Perry? How about one of the more gifted players with the puck, with serious skating concerns who might take close to five years to make his mark at the NHL level. Translation, the team that picks him will say the old cliché, “We were very surprised that he was still available at this spot, we had him ranked much higher.” Then they had best get him on a program to build up his leg strength and skating. If he works on these areas, as well as his upper body strength, and doesn’t fall into the trap of being fast tracked into something he is not, he will be a very good professional player. He is a great stick handler, has hands and instincts that you can’ t teach, and is tough. Tough, because no one gets knocked around more in the OHL than Perry, and he always bounces right back up. He does have to learn to not get himself into situations along the boards where he can get rag dolled, which happens every game as he tries to make cuts into traffic, but does not have the speed or the strength to ward off the check. He is a slow skater, but has a long stride and with his reach can still make defencemen look silly if they are watching the puck or are lulled to sleep. He loves to come down the wrong wing and in one sweeping motion move the puck to his forehand side and get into a good shooting position. If he can add some extra speed, this move will be even more dangerous.
Perry and a few people around town have to remember that there are many routes to the NHL and he just has to look at a couple of ex-Knights to see that. Rick Nash of course made it in the fastest possible time, but his case is a rare one. Charlie Stephens was a kid who went first overall in the OHL draft, had trouble meeting his expectations, was traded several times, ended up playing five years in the OHL, was drafted by two NHL teams and did get a cup of coffee with Colorado this season, his first as a professional, but has been a force at the AHL level and was named to the All-Star team. Not bad for a guy who was constantly raked by the media and scouts. So much is expected of junior hockey players in this fast-food world of ours, and if they don’t meet expectations within two years, they are released by the team that drafted them. A guy like Perry has to play within in his limitations, forget about the hype, work on the little things and he will be a successful OHL player and then move on to the professional ranks. And if the team that drafts him is patient I think they will be rewarded down the road.