BRANDON — When Nick Perbix declined the Lightning’s offer to sign an entry-level contract last year, he wanted to have one more year to ensure he’d be best prepared for success when he turned pro.
And what a whirlwind year it’s been for the 24-year-old defenseman.
The Lightning drafted Perbix in the sixth round (the 169th overall pick) of the 2017 draft — a project more than a prodigy — but he will enter next season on the short list of defensemen starting the season at AHL Syracuse who could help supplement the Lightning’s blue-line depth in 2022-23.
“Since 2022 started, I’ve been everywhere,” Perbix said. “And I just kind of learned to be ready for anything.”
Over the past year, Perbix has acquired a lot of experience, and a lot of frequent-flier miles. He returned for his final college season at St. Cloud State after the Huskies lost in the Division I national championship game. He also wanted to finish up his degree in finance.
“The patience, it was more myself,” Perbix said. “It was a really tough decision. Once you get the NHL contract in front of you and you’re looking at it, it’s everything you’ve worked for. But I just talked with my parents, and that’s ultimately how we came to that. ... I also knew I needed to grow as a player, because I want to be able to make the next jump soon.”
But when the decision was made that NHL players wouldn’t participate in this year’s Winter Games, Perbix was called in by his coach at St. Cloud State, Brett Larson, and invited to play for Team USA. Larson was an assistant coach on the Olympic team.
So Perbix was on his way to Beijing, where the U.S. won all three group games, including a victory over Canada, before losing to Slovakia in the quarterfinals in a shootout, eventually finishing fifth.
Afterward, Perbix returned to finish his college season, which concluded short of his dream of a national title. He then signed an entry-level deal with the Lightning just more than two months before he would have become a free agent. He reported to Syracuse, where he played 17 games for the Lightning’s AHL affiliate.
“I think it helped me a lot,” Perbix said. “I played high school for four years and then played with the same junior team and then went to college for four years, so I’m kind of used to staying with one system, one coaching staff.
“But then bouncing around so much in the past three months, I kind of learned to adjust, and I know that’s more the pro hockey type, learning to adjust on the fly, teammates changing, this and that, and so it’s been a great learning curve for me.”
Follow all the action on and off the ice
Subscribe to our free Lightning Strikes newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
He went to Syracuse — where he played 12 regular-season games and five in the postseason (contributing two goals and seven assists) — a little uneasy. He remembers his first AHL game April 6 in Toronto being a grind. But afterward, he received encouragement from veteran forward Riley Nash.
“I was definitely a little shaky,” Perbix said. “I don’t know whether or not it was my legs or my head, trying to get used to everything. But he just pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey, you’re good. You belong here.’ That kind of gave me the comfort I needed to get into my own and just play.”
Perbix was a quick study in Syracuse, playing big minutes for the Crunch down the stretch and in the postseason. He likes to push the puck up ice and adapted to the speed of the AHL game, realizing the anticipation you need as a defenseman.
At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, he has a pro body, and at this month’s development camp in Brandon he showed the Lightning that he’s also improved his skating. Lightning assistant general manager and Syracuse GM Stacy Roest lauded the leadership Perbix showed during the camp’s 3-on-3 tournament.
“Especially after going to Syracuse, finding out what the league’s like, and he comes here, you can tell he’s more mature, he’s a leader,” Roest said. “He’s helping the younger first-year players out. You can tell he worked hard. His testing numbers were good. So, he’s putting in the work and it’s showing.”
Perbix still shakes his head when he thinks about his past year. He has his finance degree, the hockey he played helped grow his game, and he collected a bunch of memories he’ll always remember.
Among them was when he and his Team USA teammates broke the huddle before their first game with the same “USA-on-3!” shout that he saw so many times while watching the movie, “Miracle,” about the USA’s underdog gold medal-winning team in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.
“That’s one part I’ll, like, never forget,” Perbix said. “You kind of get goosebumps. It just brought me back to that scene in ‘Miracle.’ I’ve seen it a million times. I was like, ‘Whoa, it’s actually real, too.’”
• • •
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.