Perreault applies dad’s advice during history-making draft season
Gabe Perreault grew up around the game of hockey thanks to father Yanic Perreault, who played 14 seasons in the NHL before joining the Chicago Blackhawks as a development coach.
"I had some pretty cool moments, like when the Blackhawks won the Cup," the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (USNTDP) winger said. "We got to go to some of those games and the parades. One moment that I might not remember as much was when my dad went to the All-Star Game. I heard some cool stories about that, but I wasn't very old, so I don't really necessarily remember."
Yanic made the 2007 All-Star Game when he played for the Phoenix Coyotes.
"I heard he had two goals or something," Gabe, 18, said with a smile. "He likes to talk about that. Me and my brothers were playing video games down in the locker room with some of the other kids. I have a pretty cool picture with the Nashville mascot. It's pretty cool because the draft is in Nashville."
Gabe, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 165 pounds, will be in Nashville later this month where he's expected to be selected on the first night of the draft. He leaned on his dad, who played for the Predators in the 2005-06 season, along the way to this full-circle moment.
"He was my coach for pretty much my whole life," Gabe said. "He's taught me so much. He always told me to have fun and always be myself and don't be afraid to be creative."
Gabe's creativity was on display as he produced 132 points in 63 games, which broke the single-season record at the USNTDP previously held by Auston Matthews. Among this year's draft class, only Regina Pats phenom Connor Bedard piled up more points.
NHL scouts took notice as Gabe rose from No. 23 to No. 10 on the latest list of prospects compiled by TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie.
In a conversation with TSN, Perreault reflected on life growing up in a hockey family and shared what was behind his incredible draft year. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
TSN: How are you similar to your dad as a player and how are you different?
Perreault: "I haven't seen him play too much because I was younger, but everybody I've talked to has always told me he was also pretty skilled and a pretty smart player. He was a centre, so that's something different and he's probably a little better than me at faceoffs."
TSN: Your dad was a third-round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1991. Older brother Jacob went 27th overall to the Anaheim Ducks in 2020. Will you have bragging rights if you go before them?
Perreault: "Yeah, definitely. I'll have some bragging rights, but my dad played 14 years and Jacob has been playing pro for three years, so I have to beat that for even more bragging rights."
TSN: How did it feel to pass guys like Patrick Kane, Clayton Keller, Jack Hughes, and finally Auston Matthews, to set the single-season scoring record at the NTDP?
Perreault: "It was a really special moment. It's not something I really thought I was going to be able to do when the season started. As I got closer maybe I thought about it a little bit more. Those are the guys you look up to and want to be like, so having my name with those guys is definitely special."
TSN: What's the most notable message you received afterwards?
Perreault: "Trevor Zegras texted me. He said, 'Congrats' or something. That was probably the best one I got."
TSN: Had you messaged with him in the past?
Perreault: "He's texted me a couple times. He lived with my brother two years ago when he was in San Diego [with the AHL team] and Anaheim. They lived together then. He texted me and was trying to get me to go to Boston University a while ago. He might not be too happy now."
TSN: You and linemates Will Smith and Ryan Leonard are committed to Boston College next season. What works so well with you guys?
Perreault: "We all brought our own thing to the table. Will with how creative and skilled he is. He's really smart out there. Me and him think pretty similarly, so that helped. With Ryan, he can pretty much do it all which makes him easy to play with. He can shoot, he can pass, hit somebody, get pucks in the corner, he can pretty much do it all. Playing with them was pretty easy for me."
TSN: Leonard says he never knows what sort of pass will be coming from you. Where does your vision come from?
Perreault: "Growing up I wasn't the biggest guy, so I couldn't really necessarily skate around and beat guys wide. I had to learn a different way to play. It's something my dad always taught myself and my brothers and teammates back in the day is to make plays and be creative, so I think that's where it came from."
TSN: What did it mean to win gold at the Under-18 World Championship?
Perreault: "It's awesome. It's what we worked for the entire two years for was that moment. When we did it, it was so awesome. I mean, some guys were crying on the ice they were so happy. It was so cool."
TSN: Were you crying after Leonard sealed the overtime win?
Perreault: "No, actually I thought I was bleeding. I was the first one on the ice after Ryan scored and I jumped on him and he jumped at the same time and hit me in the face, so it hurt my nose pretty bad. I thought I was bleeding, but lucky enough I wasn't."
TSN: You guys are supposed to have better chemistry than that.
Perreault: "It was tough timing. We hit heads pretty hard and were both feeling it a little bit."
TSN: Who do you model your game after?
Perreault: "There's two guys. One guy I look at a lot is Zegras with just how skilled and creative and competitive he is. And then, growing up in Chicago, I was a pretty big Patrick Kane fan, so watching him growing up was pretty cool."
TSN: Have you met Kane?
Perreault: "Yeah, I met him a couple times. I was pretty young. It was when they were winning the Cups in 2013 and 2015. I don't think I said too much back then. I wasn't the biggest kid, so I wasn't saying too much. I mean, it's so cool. Those are the guys you look up to and want to be like."
TSN: You scored 53 goals this season. In this year's draft class, only Bedard scored more. Is your goal-scoring ability underrated?
Perreault: "Maybe a little bit. It's something I tried to work on a lot over the last summer, like, my goal-scoring ability in tight and from pretty much everywhere. And playing with Ryan and Will they set you up a lot, so that also helps. But it's something I've been trying to improve on."
TSN: How did you work on that?
Perreault: "I have a shooting room in my basement, so I like to go in and shoot. I also had one in Michigan at the Program, which was also used a lot."
TSN: Your dad was born in Sherbrooke, Que. and played for Canada. The Sarnia Sting, the team that your brother played for in the OHL, drafted you. Why did you go the NTDP route?
Perreault: "In my u15 year, I got to talk to the Program a little bit. I wasn't really sure if I was going to be able to go, but when I heard I could go to the [evaluation camp] and make the team it was a no doubter from there. I was for sure going."
Perreault: "With all the resources they have on the ice, off the ice, it was a lot of what I needed especially with the off-ice program they do that the u17 year, which helps a lot in the u18 year."
TSN: Where did you improve the most this season?
Perreault: "I kept improving on a lot of things. One was my goal scoring, but with my hockey IQ I've always been able to generate a lot of offence. Throughout the summer and last year, I was able to add a lot of weight and strength, which helped. I think this year a lot of guys had a lot more confidence, which played a huge part in it as well."
TSN: How much weight did you add?
Perreault: "When I started at the Program I was around 140 pounds and now I'm 165, 170, so quite a lot since the start."
TSN: How did you do it?
Perreault: "I had to eat a lot. [Director of sports science] Brian Galivan was pretty tough on me and put me through some good workouts and had me eat a lot, but it definitely paid off, so I'm happy I did it. It was tough at first. I had to force myself to eat a lot of times, but it also helped that we worked out so much that u17 year, so you're more hungry during the day."
TSN: What's the most interesting question you get when you talk to NHL teams?
Perreault: "I haven't gotten anything too crazy yet. Most of them are basic. One was, 'Would you rather win two Cups or be in the Hall of Fame?'"
TSN: What did you say?
Perreault: "You got to win a couple Cups to be a Hall of Famer."
TSN: What did your brother tell you about the draft process?
Perreault: "His was definitely a little bit different because it was online [due to COVID]. It will be cool for him to be part of it this year. He's always told me something similar to my dad, which is not to worry about the draft too much during the season. 'Just play your game and everything else will come.'"
TSN: What was the sibling rivalry like growing up?
Perreault: "He bumped me around quite a bit. He was always bigger than me, so he'd push me around in those mini stick battles and stuff like that, but it was good."
TSN: Made you stronger?
Perreault: "Exactly. Might've had a couple concussions from him hitting me but we don't know."
TSN: You only had eight penalty minutes this season despite playing big minutes. What's the key to your discipline?
Perreault: "I guess it's something I've always had. I try to be as physical as I can without taking too many penalties. I was actually talking with my dad about that. He was saying he had 100 something penalty minutes in the QMJHL in his draft year. I was like, 'I only had eight.' He was laughing. He thought it was funny."
TSN: Was he giving you a hard time?
Perreault: "He was joking around. He said I could've got to double digits."
TSN: You're listed as Gabriel by NHL Central Scouting, but everyone calls you Gabe. When did Gabriel become just Gabe?
Perreault: "When I moved to the States in third grade. I was around nine or 10 and I wasn't really used to it and people started calling me that. It was a bit of an adjustment at first."
TSN: Do you like Gabe better?
Perreault: "I probably like Gabe better now, because I'm more used to it. But back home they used to call me Gabby in Canada, but not many people have called me Gabriel. So, yeah, I like Gabe better. I'm used to it."
TSN: Does anyone still call you Gabriel?
Perreault: "Not really. Sometimes when people don't know me, but close friends and family don't call me that."