NEW YORK — "Whatcha got for me? Funny questions?"
After a long morning skate for his Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Graden on Wednesday, Brendan Perlini requests a "fun" interview, one that lives up to his expectations. The fun-loving forward casually settles into his stall in the visiting locker room, legs stretched out and a grin on his face.
From his calm, collected demeanor, it's easy to see that Perlini's in good spirits — as he usually is.
Now with the Red Wings, where he was dealt by the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 25 following his trade request, Perlini said he's fitting in just fine, and that being in Detroit has made his entire career come full circle — in a way, of course.
The 23-year-old's backstory doesn't play out the same way as many players' do; his road started back in the south of Surrey, England, a county just on the outskirts of London. Perlini was born in the town of Guildford, where his father, Fred, was playing the final part of his career with the British Hockey League's Guildford Flames. His dad had grown up in Canada and played eight games for the Toronto Maple Leafs and in the AHL before moving to the U.K., where he impressed with 90-goal and 130-plus point seasons. After a 1996-97 campaign with the English Premier Ice Hockey League's Guildford team, he retired and went on to coach the town's U10, U12, U14, U16 and U19 teams.
Learning to play the sport was unorthodox for the Great Britain native, given the country isn't known for hockey, nor does it put a lot of emphasis on it. However, thanks to his family — which also includes his older brother and professional hockey player Brett — he was able to pick it up over time.
"It was different in a sense where they don't have much ice. For kids over here, the opportunities they have in Canada and the States is unbelievable," Perlini pointed out. "They play more games than the NHL at 10 years old, so it's great. In England, we played 18 games, and if you're good enough, you played up with the older team, so you'd play 40 or whatever. Then like, we only practiced one to two times a week."
Despite the lack of resources, Perlini stuck with it, wanting to pursue the sport that's been in the family, which has Canadian roots. He skated whenever he could at the rink, and the rest of the time, he grabbed a pair of inline skates and took to the streets to continue to build his skill-set.
"[I'd be] anywhere, you know, buzzing about on my rollerblades in the driveway or things like that," Perlini said with a smile. "It was one of those things where if you love the game enough, you're going to find ways to play it, right?"
Growing up overseas, Perlini also got the chance to travel all across Europe, seeing France, Sweden, Germany and a number of countries, with the exception of Italy and Switzerland, before he and his family returned to Canada when Perlini was 11.
All these years later, he holds his English heritage close.
On off days and to simply unwind, he said he turns to music and television to keep the mind at ease. His lineup consists of U.K. series, including The Inbetweeners, White Gold, Cuckoo (which he watches with his brother) and Top Boy — which he is grateful to rapper Drake, who "dug it up from the grave." In the car or his headphones, he "can jam out to anything," from country to rap, but likes to stick with the U.K. music scene. He also watches YouTube concerts in his free time, where he mentioned seeing several British bands, including British band Florence + the Machine, who he believes opened one of the shows.
"If you can't tell, I'm obviously English," he laughs. "For me, I stay with my heritage. I feel like I'm back home to a sense where I'm watching shows, listening to music. So it's an easy way for me to connect with everyone back home still by doing this."
Road to and around the NHL
In 2007, Perlini and his family relocated to their original hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., where Perlini got to continue his development in Canada. When he was 13, he played 18 games with the Minor Bantam AAA's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, registering 19 goals and 34 points before his family picked up again and moved to Detroit when Perlini was 14.
"Been everywhere," Perlini shrugged.
In Michigan, he played for the Bantam Major AAA and Tier 1 Elite Hockey League's Detroit Belle Tire, which led him to the OHL's Barrie Colts and eventually on the move again when he was traded to the Niagara Ice Dogs. There, he showed off his goal-scoring and playmaking ability, as well as his strong play at both ends of the ice that made him one of the top power forward prospects available, which led him to be taken 12th overall by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Brendan Perlini (Guilford, U.K.) is the first British-born rookie to score a goal since Kevin Brown (Birmingham, U.K.) in 1994-95 (w/ LAK). pic.twitter.com/PHZFNOlfmf
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 11, 2016
In Arizona, the 6-3, 211-pound forward developed and started to make strides during his tenure with the Coyotes, showing that he has the potential to eventually be a 20-plus goal-scorer while also putting up 17 goals and 30 points in 2017-18. However, he'd again find himself packing his bags when he was traded to Chicago after 22 games with Arizona last season, and while he did have a decent showing with the Blackhawks — posting 12 goals through 46 games — things would fall apart to start 2019-20.
Although he signed a one-year, $874,125 contract extension to kick off this season, Perlini was scratched for the nine of the first 10 games of the season, and in his only game on Oct. 12, he logged 7:49 minutes of ice time.
With a lack of ice time and opportunity, as well as frustration, Perlini requested a trade.
"I thought in the situation I was in there, I just, I wasn't playing . . . had a few talks with them and with my agent and just kind of decided that you know, it'd probably be best for me and the organization if people did something to move on. You want to play. You want to play the game," Perlini pointed out. "I'm not here to unfortunately sit around. Did I give my best effort in Chicago? Yeah, 100 percent. Things didn't work out how we both wanted to, but at the end of the day, sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Now, I got a fresh new opportunity here, I'm excited and should be a really good fit here."
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) October 17, 2018
Back to Motor City
Now with the Red Wings, the power forward is back home, reunited with his family again in Detroit.
While being traded and adapting to new cities, organizations, teammates and systems can be challenging, Perlini wouldn't have it any other way. Traveling and trying new things is second nature to the fourth-year forward — and provides the same thrill it did when he was a kid back home in England.
"I sort of have an advantage in a way . . . I can adapt to living in places relatively easy because I've done it my whole life, living in England, Canada, USA. It's not like it's completely foreign for me or anything like that, it's easy to kind of come in, adapt quick and get on with it.
"I do enjoy it and each time, it's something new," he later added. "It's fresh, it's exciting, you're not constantly kind of stuck in the same thing."
But of course, moving does have its downside; for him, when it comes to moving, the worst part is, well, the move.
"I would say the toughest thing, yeah, is all your stuff. This time was easy because my parents are in Detroit, so I was able to go back to Chicago, get my stuff and drive down, but I didn't have like, obviously I can't take my furniture or anything like that, so you know, all that stuff," Perlini admitted. "Just organizing all that stuff. But the team does a decent job in doing a lot of that for you as well but it's more of just finding a setup, getting a place to live, things like that."
While he looks for a place, Perlini said he's staying with his parents and relaxing at home on off days and practice days, but for game days, he'll get a hotel by the rink, since his family lives 50 minutes away from Little Caesars Arena.
In the end, it's all worth it for the fourth-year forward, who's excited for his fresh start in the Motor City, as well as the opportunity to help the Red Wings turn things around as a third-line forward. The team is just 5-12-1 to start the 2019-20 campaign and needs more offense, and in turn, Perlini's already getting more responsibility than he had back in Chicago. In addition to experience and more pressure on the forecheck, Perlini also said he's experienced rough stretches, and therefore, is ready to contribute to a positive mindset and help the team snap out of it.
"I've been through situations like this . . . it's one of those things where you've got to stay with it, stay positive, believe in the process and as quickly as things can go — 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or whatever losses — you can do that the other way and get that many wins. So for us, you know, we just got to keep working hard, we got to control what we can control and that's it."
SN MAILBAG: NHL 2020 Draft, Carlson, Hall
Walking the boulevard toward a successful career, Perlini's mentality hasn't changed. He's ready to show what he can do in Motown and knows that all of those years of travel — and the atypical journey he took to get to where he is — will pay off.
"Whether it's on the ice, on the street, whatever, I believe you're always going to develop and get better as long as you're playing somewhere," Perlini said.