LOS ANGELES – Coyotes winger Brendan Perlini motions for the pass, raising his stick before planting it on the ice.
The puck arrives, and he accepts it with what those in hockey call a “soft catch” – a touch that controls the puck but doesn’t stop its motion, setting it up to be flung off the blade.
And when he lets go, Perlini’s right leg kicks up as the puck flies to the left of Avalanche goalie Calvin Pickard, who was sliding over to his right to defend the shot only to have the puck land where he was just a second before.
“If I can get a clean shot, I know my shot is good enough to beat anyone,” Perlini said. “As long as it doesn’t get tipped or blocked or anything, I have a really good chance at scoring.”
This wrist shot has become Perlini’s trademark in his rookie season and for a plethora of reasons. His release is quick, he regularly hits the net and the power he packs is unique for the shot type. Oh, and it’s been frequently effective – helping Perlini’s ability as a goal scorer emerge in the world’s best league.
“He’s a young player that just wants to score,” coach Dave Tippett said. “He has a passion to score and when he does, that’s a good thing for our team.”
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Perlini had 13 goals entering Tuesday’s game against the Kings, which led all Coyotes rookies and ranked third on the team overall. His .30 goals-per-game average tied for third among all NHL rookies who have skated in at least 32 games, while his 16.7 shooting percentage was second among rookies and 15th in the NHL.
After his goal Monday in a 1-0 win over Colorado, the 20-year-old became the first rookie in franchise history to score a goal in three straight games since Peter Mueller had a three-game goal streak from Jan. 17-21 in 2008.
All three were wrist shots from the left part of the slot.
“He has a hard wrister, but he’s got that deception where he kind of freezes the goalie and then he sees an opening and he’s able to put it there,” winger Radim Vrbata said. “Lately when he gets in that open area in the slot and he has a little bit of time, you can see that he knows what he’s doing.”
Shooting has always been Perlini’s favorite skill, and he hasn’t always honed his style on the ice.
Growing up in England, Perlini practiced into an empty net off a glass floor with pucks and balls. He also participated in roller hockey, which helped develop his control since he usually played on a bumpy surface that made shooting unpredictable.
As he progressed with the sport, he and his dad Fred, who played professionally, focused on two key tenants: quickness and putting the puck on net. In the past few years, he’s worked on more technical elements like weight transfer – a more complicated concept that Perlini, who was drafted 12th overall in 2014, practices in the summer so that it’s second-nature by the season.
“As you get older and get toward junior and pro, it becomes a little more scientific as far as changing the angle on the shot and shot selection and stuff like that,” he said. “At the end of the day when I’m out there, I don’t think about any of that stuff because I practiced it over the years and you do what you do. You shoot it.”
His approach has even been tweaked this season following a conversation with Tucson Roadrunners coach Mark Lamb, who relayed an anecdote about NHL great Brett Hull’s strategy.
“He just focused on getting it on net every time, getting it on net,” Perlini said of Hull. “That’s something since (Lamb) told me that, I’ve just been really trying to hit the net a lot.”
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Aside from his NHL contributions, Perlini also buried 14 goals in the American Hockey League before his December call-up and that type of production allowed him to make his Coyotes debut with confidence already in tow.
And although he’s been scoring goals for much of his life, banking evidence that he can perform as a pro has certainly been meaningful.
“It’s been a great year so far,” Perlini said. “You always have the goal of wanting to play in the NHL. Until it happens, it’s tough to put into words. It doesn’t really feel real, but it’s been a great year. Obviously, I’d like to finish strong and hopefully get even stronger over the summer and come back even better next year.”
Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-8276. Follow her at twitter.com/azc_mclellan.