The Winnipeg Jets picked him 10th overall in this year's NHL draft, but Cole Perfetti says he still 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," the 18-year-old centre told reporters on a video call Tuesday.
"I’m going to come in and try to prove myself and, at the end of the day, I want to be the best player and leave a legacy."
Perfetti, five-foot-10 and 177 pounds, was ranked fifth among North American skaters in the NHL's final prospect rankings.
Hailing from Whitby, Ont., he spent last season with the Ontario Hockey League's Saginaw Spirit and registered 111 points (37 goals and 74 assists) in 61 games, good for second in the scoring race.
Jets' general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said the team also likes that Perfetti is humble, level-headed and a student of the game.
“Those are things that we value, that have served our organization well when we’ve had the opportunity to pick those kind of players. He’s exciting," he said.
Though the OHL hasn't yet resumed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Perfetti said he's been skating since rinks reopened in Whitby in spring and has been in the gym every day working to get stronger.
That's no surprise to Cheveldayoff.
“He’s a determined person, he’s a determined player," the GM said. "I have no doubt that he’s going to be pushing us to make some tough decisions sooner rather than later.”
COVID-19 forced the draft online this year, giving Perfetti the opportunity to watch with a group of family and friends. Having loved ones around was great, he said, but waiting to hear his name called was still nerve wracking.
“You just want to be picked," he said. "You want to go to an organization that will give you an opportunity, that cares about you, that wants you there.”
Perfetti said he already feels embraced by the Jets, especially after veteran centre Mark Scheifele sent him a congratulatory text.
“I really feel welcome. To be able to come into an organization and be able to play with guys of his calibre, it’s special," he said. "It’s going to be surreal to be able to hopefully suit up with him.”
The pick was announced Tuesday by Crystal Hawerchuk, wife of Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk, who died in August following a long battle with cancer.
The Jets were awarded the 10th pick after the Calgary Flames ousted a banged-up Winnipeg squad from the qualifying round of this year's post-season.
Scheifele and Patrik Laine missed much of the series with injuries, and Bryan Little had been sidelined most of the season after suffering a perforated eardrum in early November.
The team was also thin on defence after losing Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba and Ben Chiarot in the off-season. The problem grew when Dustin Byfuglien failed to report to training camp and eventually had his contract terminated.
Despite an early exit from this summer's playoffs, Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck was named the league's top goalie this season, taking home the Vezina Trophy.
Picking Perfetti is a bit of a break from tradition for the Jets, who have a penchant for drafting up-and-coming Finnish talent. Three of the team's last four top picks hail from the nation, including Laine, selected second overall in 2016.
Last year, Winnipeg chose defenceman Ville Heinola with the 20th overall pick.
The 19-year-old Finn played eight games for the Jets last season, registering one goal and four assists, before he was assigned to Lukko Rauma of the country's top league.
Winnipeg also owns picks No. 40, 133 and 164 in the draft, which will continue with rounds two through seven on Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published October 6, 2020.