- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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It seemed like the last thing the Oilers needed was yet another offensive forward.
What they really needed was help on defense.
And while the latter remains very much true, and it’s a big part of why they’re in such a hole in the standings, Perron has been a silver lining in a frustrating Oilers season, leading the team with 14 goals heading into Friday night’s game here in Vancouver.
He’s been going into tough areas and doing the little things that make elite players succeed, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed on a team still learning how to win.
"It’s a real easy answer: he doesn’t want to win, he needs to win," Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins said Friday.
"And that’s the difference between teams that are mediocre and the teams that are very, very good: he has a need to go out there and win a shift, win a one-on-one battle. This kid is carrying our team right now."
It’s certainly saying something that on a team with key offensive players like Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Sam Gagner, it is newcomer Perron who has most consistently carried the mail, including both goals in Thursday night’s 4-2 loss to visiting Boston.
"Aside from scoring, David has been a pain in the ass to the opposition on a nightly basis," a rival Western Conference team executive told ESPN.com Friday via text message. "His incessant chirping gets under the skin of the other players. He’s brought a level of goal scoring and tenacity that is currently lacking among the majority of the Oilers’ forwards."
Perron, 25, is on pace for 37 or 38 goals, which would easily eclipse his career high of 21 with the Blues in 2011-12.
"I’m just trying to fit in with these guys, trying to do the same things I’ve been doing in my career, but obviously things are going a bit better individually so far this year," Perron told ESPN.com Friday. "It would be nice to have more team success. I think the last 10 to 15 games have been a lot better for the club, and we just have to keep going."
The Oilers have gone 7-4-1 over the past month as they attempt to salvage their season, which opened about as badly as possible. Still, the hole dug in the standings in the mighty West is tough to overcome, which is why Perron’s personal success feels bittersweet for him right now.
"Absolutely," Perron said. "You look at last night’s game against Boston. We were down 3-2 and we’re playing a really good game, I hit the post with a minute left. I had two goals in the game but that’s not enough, I needed three there. I thought I had it and I missed it. It’s really frustrating, I had a lot of nightmares about that one last night. It’s just tough when you’re trying to climb in the standings with so many good teams ahead of you. You can’t lose too many in a row unless you’re right back where you were a week ago."
That attitude, his work ethic, the manner in which Perron has played this season, it’s the kind of thing the Oilers need more of.
"I’m hopeful that he is rubbing off on a lot of our other guys," said Eakins. "I see it, I hear the comments on the bench, when he’s out there and he’s playing like he has. This kid competes hard, he cares about his teammates, he’s always encouraging his teammates, he has ideas on the bench. That was a great, great acquisition by [GM] Craig MacTavish."
In many ways, Perron is reliving what he went through in St. Louis, where a young rebuilding Blues team learned how to win. Today, the Blues are among the NHL’s elite teams.
Now Perron hopes to see the Oilers get over that hump too.
"The level of talent here is through the roof," said Perron. "We just got to play the right way all the time. I find sometimes when we’re down 1-0 or 2-1, we get away from our game. We just got to trust the system and play the right way. When we do that, we’re going to be one of the best teams in the league, and I’m confident we’re going to be top three in the West every single year once we figure that out."
Perron hasn’t been shy to bring what he learned in St. Louis into the Oilers room.
"Some of the things I heard in the Blues room I’m trying to bring in here," he said. "It’s not all negative here, we have a lot of good things going on; just need a few tweaks here and there and we can be a real contender, in my opinion. Just trying to bring some of that here, the work ethic that needs to be there every single practice. In St. Louis and with all the top teams, they practice the same way as they play. It’s a cliché, but it’s not when you play on those teams. That’s what we’re trying to do here."
7dScott Burnside and Craig Custance