Scott Perunovich doesn't look like your typical NHL Draft prospect. He's listed at 5'9", but is probably closer to 5'7", and his probably-inflated weight of 159 lbs. is still humorously small. But he stood out as the best defenseman in the state of Minnesota high school ranks this year and played well enough that he'll be considered as a potential NHL Draft pick this June.
Player: Scott Perunovich
Team: Hibbing(Minnesota) High School
Height: 5'9" Weight: 159 lbs.
Stats: 25 games, 13 goals, 55 assists, 68 points
Final NHL Central Scouting Rank: 161st among North American skaters
What I Like:
-Quick First Step
Weighing less than 160 lbs., does have certain advantages. Perunovich is light on his feet and super-quick. He has the ability to escape pressure and maintain possession. He's great at spinning away from trouble or using his strong first step to sidestep an attacker and make a play.
Perunovich is a really smart hockey player with great awareness. He can survey the whole ice and make quick decisions to find open teammates. His high assist totals were no accident. He's a plus-level passer because of his ability to read the play and understand what is going on.
What I Don't Like:
There's under-sized and then there's Perunovich. It's not impossible for a defenseman his size to play in the NHL, but it's incredibly rare, and the ones that tend to make it are typically thick-legged super-strong skaters, which is not Perunovich. He'll have to prove he can avoid or at least handle the punishment he's going to face from much bigger players.
-Lack of Competition
Perunovich skated with the US NTDP U18 team in two games against NCAA schools this year. He didn't look out of place, but joining a new team for a single weekend meant he played pretty conservative and didn't really show much. Otherwise, he spent his year playing high school hockey in northern Minnesota, where they level of competition isn't particularly strong, and it's just hard to judge how good he is. Perunovich was the best defenseman during the fall Upper Midwest Elite League, which features the best high school players in the country, but even that is a good step below junior hockey.
There's a big difference in the time and space afforded to defenseman at the high school level compared to junior/college/pro hockey, and Perunovich's game is based on his escapability and ability to make good decisions with the puck. Selecting him means the added risk of not knowing if he'll even be able to translate his game to the junior level, let alone the pro level.
Perunovich is no guarantee to be selected, but once we get into the last two rounds, especially in what is considered a weaker draft, it might be worth taking a shot on a player with his high-end hockey intelligence and hope that he'll be a player once he matures physically. I have him 102nd on my list of players I've seen, which should equate to about a seventh round draft pick.
Perunovich will be a long-term project for whichever team selects him. He still has another year of high school left, and potentially another year of junior hockey after that before enrolling at Minnesota Duluth. It could be as many as six years before a team has to sign Perunovich to a contract. If he's able to make it at the pro level, he'll be a puck-moving defenseman that relies on his offensive capabilities, especially on the power play, to stay in the line-up.