I had a chance to read two thoughtful and well-researched articles this week on Mathieu Perreault from Russian Machine Never Breaks and On Frozen Blog. I agree with OFB that Perreault is a no-brainer to start the year at #2 center. I have to disagree with RMNB's ultimate assessment: I think they underestimated him. I think Mathieu Perreault is the answer to the Washington Capitals' #2 center vacancy, and I think he will perform at least as well as any #2 center the Caps have had since Michael Nylander in 2002-03.
Perreault, who won't turn 23 until January, is an exceptionally quick and intelligent playmaker. He is generously listed at 5'10 and 174 pounds which, in his own words, contributed to him being drafted in the 6th round in 2006. He has a strong junior hockey pedigree, posting huge numbers in the both the QMJHL regular season and playoffs and was 2007 league MVP.
His rookie pro season came in 2008-09 in the AHL and was better than solid: 11 goals and 50 points in 77 games for the Calder Cup winning Hershey Bears, plus another 8 points in the playoffs. Last season, he ratcheted up his production to the same 50 points (16 goals) in only 56 games plus another 7 goals and 19 points in 21 playoff games as he won another Cup. His biggest moment of the postseason was scoring the game-tying goal with 1:13 left and then scoring the overtime series-winning goal to send the Bears to the Conference Final. As OFB put it, he has a top-six skill set.
Perreault also earned his first NHL action, displaying the excellent playmaking ability that got him drafted and posted the best numbers among the ten Bears call-ups with 4 goals, 5 assists, and 9 points. Only John Carlson played more than Perreault's 21 games or had better than his +4 plus/minus rating. He appeared to wear down during an extended 18-game recall in the autumn. This is typical of young players (see: Tavares, John), and the physical ability to keep up with older and better conditioned players takes time to develop (see: Fleischmann, Tomas).
What will keep Perreault in the NHL is something unexpected: he has shown he has no qualms about going to the net. Three of his four goals were scored within 3 feet of the cage (Goal 1, Goal 3, Goal 4) and his other came from between the circles against Martin Brodeur (Goal 2). He also scores when it matters: his first career goal tied the game in the third period, his second gave the Caps an early 2-0 lead, his third pulled the Caps to within a goal (4-3) in the third on the powerplay, and his fourth was a third period go-ahead goal.