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Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25: #9 Nick Perbix

Can he continue his skyrocketing ascension through the organization?

Scott Thomas Photography

Before we get to talking about Nick Perbix, it’s trivia time. During the Yzerman/BriseBois Era how many defensemen that have been drafted by the team have appeared in more than 100 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning? I’ll give you a few seconds to think (no Googling!)

Ok,

5

4

3

2

1

Pencils down.

The answer - two. That’s right, only two defensemen have been drafted by the Lightning and made their way through the system to play at least 100 games with them at the NHL level. Even better, neither are with the organization. Those two players were Radko Gudas (126) and Nikita Neterov (119). That’s it, that’s all*.

Which brings us to Nick Perbix. The 24-year-old was drafted by the Lightning back in 2017 with their sixth-round pick. After a productive career at St. Cloud State he joined the Syracuse Crunch last season and was quite impressive in his 12-game stint in the AHL. The right-shot defenseman posted 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) in those 12 games and quickly assumed a top four role on the blueline.

As good as Tampa Bay has been at finding offensive gems in the draft, they’ve struggled to do so on the backend. Perbix’s performance has elicited hopes that Perbix (and his fellow prospects Jack Thompson and Roman Schmidt) can end the drought of quality defensive prospects in the Lightning system.

While Perbix will have a shot at making the Lightning out of training camp (especially due to Zach Bogosian’s injury) in all likelihood he’ll return to Syracuse where he will again play top-four minutes. Another strong season with the Crunch should elevate him into a contender for, at the very least, a third-pairing spot with the Lightning in 2023-24.

Last season was a pretty busy one for Perbix as he finished up his college career by posting a 6-goal, 25-assist stat line in 31 games for St. Cloud State while also playing in the Olympics for Team USA where he garnered one assist in four games. He wrapped it up by beginning his professional career with the Crunch where he recorded a point in 8 of the 12 games he appeared in. Five more playoff games with Syracuse (one assist) finished off his whirlwind season.

With that experience behind him, Perbix can look to providing a little stability on the blueline for Syracuse this season. At 6’4” and 200 pounds, he has the size to be a physical presence on the ice, but what was most impressive in his short stint last year was his ability to read the play and understand what was going on on the ice. After a couple of games to acclimate to the speed of the AHL, the Elk River native looked like a seasoned veteran on the ice.

That presence of mind will be his biggest asset in getting to the NHL. While his skating has improved over the years, he’s never going to be a burner up and down the ice, so knowing where to be as a play develops is important to him. He also showed an excellent understanding of when to pinch in on the attack and when to stay back.

A better passer than shooter, Perbix showed that he could start the transition game in his own zone with clean breakout passes and also spot the open forward in the offensive zone. His shot is fine if not exceptional, but it should play well at the AHL and NHL levels as he finds ways to get it on net.

As Syracuse head coach Ben Groulx points out in the clip below, Perbix does a good job of doing what he is asked to do. For young players that can sometimes be an issue, especially come game time. “Tell him what to do and he does it”. Seems simple, yet so often there is a disconnect between what the coaches want and what a player actually does. That doesn’t seem to be an issue with Perbix.

The voters noticed his solid season and rewarded him with a drastic move up the charts. Last year he came in the 25th slot of the Top 25 Under 25. For this years voting, the writers were a little higher on him with a consensus spot of 6th while the readers had him ranked 9th. This is his last year of eligibility (he turns 25 next June) so it’s good to see him go out on a high note.

As for his career projection, something that’s always tough no matter how old a prospect is, it’s likely that he ends up as a steady third-pairing defenseman that might peak as a middle-pair blueliner. With his size and smarts he should be an effective penalty killer and does have enough offensive potential to possibly see some time on a second power play unit. Last year, Geo compared him to Braydon Couburn and that still seems a pretty apt comparison.

A couple of things I like on this goal. One - he’s pinched down low helping even up the numbers in case there is a battle for the puck along the boards. Two - he has his head up watching the puck and isn’t entangled with the Rocket player along the boards. He’s able to see the puck trickle out in front of the net and he doesn’t hesitate to go to it and flip it up and over the goaltender.

Much like the first highlight, this goal shows his ability to read a play. He sees the Marlies defense heading towards the puck carrier and knows there will be open ice if stays on his straight line path. Also by heading towards the net he forces the Toronto player to have to choose between him and leaving Gabriel Fortier open at the top of the left circle. That give Alex Barre-Boulet options off the rush and BB threads a nice pass over to Perbix who buries it.

Coach Groulx has him out there in overtime and it pays off. Some defensemen might take a full wind-up and try and unleash a howitzer from this point, but Perbix is focused on getting the shot off quickly and on net.

Perbix can boast about something a lot of his Lightning teammates don’t have on their resume - a point in the Olympics (it’s not a Stanley Cup ring, but hey, it’s something). Here is his assist, a nice strong pass through a tight window and right on to the stick of his teammate.

If he feeds his teammates passes like this all season long, it’s going to be a good year for the Crunch.

*Oddly enough, two of the most successful defensemen that were developed in the minors during the current regime weren’t draft picks. Andrej Sustr was signed as a college free agent and Erik Cernak was brought in via a trade with the Los Angeles Kings.