Life can change in an instant. Lightning fast even.
Just ask Elk River’s Nick Perbix, who, within the span of a little more than 12 months, was a Division I athlete (St. Cloud State University), an Olympian (Team USA in Beijing), a minor league player (American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch), and now, an NHLer (Tampa Bay Lightning).
“It’s crazy. 2022 in general was just kind of all unexpected,” Perbix said ahead of a matchup with his hometown Minnesota Wild in January. “If you’d told me in January what was going to happen, I’d have just laughed at you.
“Between the Olympics, signing a contract and playing in the NHL and then signing another contract, you just can’t make it up. I still haven’t wrapped my head around it. Pretty fortunate.”
Perbix has patiently put in the work. The self-declared late bloomer grew from Bantam B1 to a 2017 Mr. Hockey finalist as a senior at Elk River, but he still didn’t garner much attention from Division I schools despite being a point-per-game defenseman.
To his surprise, Perbix’s name was called by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the sixth round (169th overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He wasn’t even watching it on TV.
But Brett Larson and the rest of the coaching staff at St. Cloud State saw potential.
“I knew there was a lot for me to work on,” admitted Perbix. “And Coach Larson knew that too. But he took a chance on me and knew that I had the skill, I just needed to tap into it and work at it.”
Brett Larson recently told The Athletic:
“He wasn’t the best prospect in Minnesota,” Larson said. “He just kept getting better. He’s a great story for players to watch because it doesn’t always happen that way. He believed in himself, and he couldn’t have been more right.”
Read: Nick Perbix’s rise from 6th round to Lightning’s top pair: ‘He’s proven a lot of people wrong’
Time to Mature
Perbix turned down the opportunity to sign with Tampa after his junior year at St. Cloud State. His decision to stay for his senior season has paid dividends.
That season included a trip to Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, an NCAA title game, and then a 12-game stint in the minors after signing his first NHL deal.
“I think that’s a big reason I’m here (in the NHL),” Perbix said. “I would let little mistakes get to me more than they should. It’s impossible to play a perfect game, and (Coach Larson) made sure I knew that. As much as I want to play a perfect shift every time I go out there, it’s not going to happen every time. Understanding that has really helped my progression.”
Perbix has 18 points (4 goals, 14 assists) in 45 games and a newly signed two-year extension to his name now.
He has earned high praise from head coach Jon Cooper, who has guided Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup Final three years in a row and winning it twice (2020 and 2021).
“The one thing is Perbix is new to the NHL, but it’s not like he’s a kid,” Cooper told Tampa’s beat writer Chris Krenn. “He’s 24 years old. He’s mature… He’s a really intelligent player and human.”
After signing Perbix to a two-year extension, Cooper added: "One thing about him: he'll just continue to work and not rest on this saying he's made it or anything. That's what we like about him. He's a great kid. He's [one of] these kids that want to learn."
Not bad for a kid who wasn’t sure if he had a future in hockey.
“I can’t wrap my head around it right now,” Perbix said. “It’s still so new, and I’m kind of wide-eyed right now. I’m just trying to take it in, day by day, as much as I can.”