Small and gritty: Jets seek big things from Perreault

Do big things really come in small packages? For the Winnipeg Jets, that's the $3-million question when it comes to newcomer Matthieu Perreault, writes Jeff Hamilton.
Matthieu Perreault, right, and Bryan Little chat during a break at Jets camp Friday at the MTS IcePlex. (Jeff Hamilton/CBC)

Do big things really come in small packages?

For the Winnipeg Jets, that's the $3-million question.

Indeed, there is no lack of mystery to newcomer Matthieu Perreault, who secured a hefty raise after signing a three-year, $9-million contract with the Jets in the off-season.

Perreault, 26, a native of Drummondville, Que., was snatched up by Winnipeg on the first day of free agency this summer after playing out his most recent contract — a two-year, $2.1-million deal.

At a modest five feet 10 inches tall, and weighing 185 pounds, Perreault isn't exactly your prototype centreman that best characterizes the rough-and-tumble Western Conference.

His long, curly hair, which flows freely out of his helmet, and his thin facial hair — the kind that takes a bit of time to fill out — is hardly threatening.

Feisty bugger

That is, until you have to play against the feisty bugger.

"I remember playing against him a lot," recalled Jets centreman Bryan Little following the second day of camp at the MTS IcePlex Friday.

"He's one of those small, feisty guys that's not really fun to play against. When I saw we picked him up, I was pretty happy with that."

Little was reminded of one game in particular last season when the Jets visited Anaheim back on Mar. 31.

Up 4-1 heading into the third period, the Ducks slowly chiselled away at the lead to earn them their biggest come-from-behind win in franchise history, 5-4 in overtime.

If the loss didn't sting enough for Little, Perreault was the added salt to the wound, as he was tasked with shutting down Little and the Jets' top line en route to the win.

"I do remember going against him and it got very intense," Little noted with a grin.

"We both like to compete and we both have a bit of feistiness in us, so when you got two similar-type guys going against each other like that, it made for some good on-ice battles."

Perreault said it's a gritty style of play he's become accustomed to: "That's what I've been about my whole career," he said.

"Being a smaller guy, I've always kind of had to work extra harder and I've always done that, and it's going to be no different this year."

Asked whether an invitation to exchange knuckle sandwiches was ever discussed, Little just laughed off the idea, giving barely any thought to a part of the game he said he "has no business being a part of."

Added depth

As for Perreault, he's set to enter his sixth season in the NHL. He was drafted by and spent his first four seasons in the Washington Capitals system before being traded to the mighty — only by reputation, not by name anymore — Ducks in Anaheim prior to last season.

The decision to pick up Perreault made it clear the Jets wanted to move on from veteran Olli Jokinen, cutting ties with the now Nashville Predator following two years of service and a $9-million price tag.

What the Jets got instead, they hope, is a power play specialist who's quick and can add much needed depth scoring.

"You got a player that's quite quick," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice.

"He's not going to roll any guys over but he's going to finish every check. What he's going to do is he's going to give that line an opportunity to score some goals."

Perreault is coming off his best season statistically, scoring 18 goals and 43 points with the Ducks — the same total points as Jokinen, only he did it in 13 less games and with significant less ice time.

Perreault also brings valuable experience, having played with some of the most talented group of forwards in the NHL in Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in Washington and Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in Anaheim.

Learning alongside such an elite group of players is something Perrault believes to be one of his most valuable assets, and he's eager to share some of the tricks he's learned along the way.

"There's a lot of different things you can bring," he said. "In Washington, they had one of the best power plays, and I know exactly how they run it and it's something they want me to work [on] with them."

Put lightly, the Jets were subpar on the power play throughout the year, finishing 25th with a 15.4 per cent success rate. Perreault hopes he can be the answer to getting things back on track, but for now, he's just willing to play whatever coach Maurice has in store.

"I'm not getting any younger but I feel like I've got some good hockey left in me," said Perreault. "Probably the best hockey I can offer."


Jeff Hamilton

Winnipeg Jets

Jeff Hamilton is an award-winning journalist born and raised in Winnipeg. Jeff is a graduate of the Carleton University journalism program and has worked for CBC in Ottawa and Manitoba. This will be his second year covering his hometown team. Jeff is passionate about hockey, playing and has studied the game his entire life.


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