Gabe Perreault has packed on weight over the past two years. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Team USA star Gabe Perreault could be intriguing NHL Draft choice for Sabres

NASHVILLE – The genesis of NHL Draft prospect Gabe Perreault’s recording-breaking season for Team USA’s Under-18 squad began a year earlier.

In 2021, Perreault arrived in Plymouth, Michigan, a skinny 16-year-old. Dan Muse, his former coach at the National Team Development Program, said the high-scoring winger weighed just 130 or 140 pounds.

So Perreault took advantage of the resources the program offers and reshaped his body.

“He really dedicated himself in the weight room and in regards to nutrition,” Muse told the Times Herald.

Today, Perreault, who turned 18 on May 7, is listed at 5-foot-11 and 163 pounds. His off-ice work buoyed his development, helping him post some downright gaudy numbers.

Perreault enjoyed a breakout season, scoring a whopping 53 goals and 132 points in 63 games. He shattered Auston Matthews’ previous program record of 117 points set in 2014-15. His 79 assists broke Jack Hughes’ record by one.

He also registered the 11th 50-goal season in program history.

Among draft-eligible players, only center Connor Bedard, the presumptive first overall pick Wednesday, recorded more points (143).

Central Scouting ranks Perreault 10th among North American skaters for the NHL Draft in Nashville. He and his linemates Will Smith and Ryan Leonard will all possibly be first-round picks at Bridgestone Arena. All three plan to attend Boston College in the fall.

Perreault could be an intriguing option for the Buffalo Sabres, one of the teams he spoke to at the NHL Scouting Combine, if he lasts until the 13th selection.

He possesses an array of skills. But his elite hockey sense helps make him a coveted prospect. He thinks the game on a higher level than most youngsters.

“It’s off the charts,” Muse said of Perreault’s hockey sense. “It’s incredible sense, incredible anticipation, how he just reads time and space. That’s the biggest thing. You combine that with just a great skill, great hands. He’s able to do some uncommon things on the ice but it drives off of that hockey sense.”

Dan Marr, Central Scouting’s director, said Perreault “has eyes in the back of his head out there.”

“He’s quick and clever with the puck,” he said. “His skating, the strength coach at USA Hockey did a real good job. His skating has improved significantly from last year into this year. He picked up the good habits, to keep his feet moving, to always be in the right place at the right time. Just a pure goal scorer. He’s a kid that wants the puck on his stick. … He’s just a pure offensive top-end player.”

Perreault, whose father, Yanic, was a center who played 859 NHL games over 14 seasons, said he’s “a competitive and creative offensive-minded winger.”

“I like to create chances for myself and my teammates and I’m probably more of a playmaker, so I think my best asset is my hockey IQ,” he said June 10 following fitness testing at the combine in LECOM Harborcenter.

A name that could be called on the second day of the draft – Larry Keenan – might sound familiar to Sabres fans from the team’s early days.

Keenan, a prospect ranked 73rd by Central Scouting, is the grandson of Larry Keenan, a winger who joined the Sabres during their inaugural season in 1970-71 and played 65 games for the new franchise over two years.

The elder Keenan played on a line with Sabres legend Gilbert Perreault, who was in the midst of a dazzling rookie season when he arrived from the St. Louis Blues.

“He was in charge of giving him the puck,” said the younger Keenan, a 6-foot-3, 186-pound defenseman. “That’s the stories I’ve heard.”

His grandfather owns some claims to fame from his days with the Blues. He scored the first goal in the franchise’s history in 1967. He was also on the ice when Bobby Orr scored his iconic “flying” Stanley Cup-clinching goal for the Bruins in 1970.

In the third period that night in Boston Garden, Keenan’s power-play goal briefly put the Blues up.

The younger Keenan plans to play in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League next season before attending UMass. He spent the last two seasons at Culver Military Academy in Indiana.

Why did he choose that route?

“I’d say I’m a strong student, so I originally saw hockey as a way to get schooling done through the college route,” he said. “… (I) got exponentially (better) throughout the past couple years. So college hockey probably isn’t my limit, my end goal.”

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