It hasn't taken long for Matej Pekar to make an impression on both fans and members of the Buffalo Sabres organization. The 2018 fourth-round pick was a standout at his first development camp in June, where he scored two goals in the French Connection Tournament and got under the skin of 2017 top pick Casey Mittelstadt.
He said he tries to emulate a style similar to that of Boston Bruins pest Brad Marchand and so far, with that mindset, he's had early success with the OHL's Barrie Colts.
Pekar has 11 points (6+5) through his first 10 games.
"He's a gamer all the time," Barrie coach Dale Hawerchuk said. "He's a gamer at the gym, he's a gamer at practice, he's a gamer in the game. The kid lives and breathes the game."
Last season, Pekar posted 54 points (14+40) in 56 games for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL. The Colts selected Pekar, a Czech native, in the second round (108th overall) of the 2018 CHL Import Draft so he decided to make the move to the OHL this year, where the competition is known to be fierce. His tenaciousness has left an impression on his opponents.
"There's more skilled guys so some guys, they just don't like to see that on other teams, which helps me get in their heads if I can. Nothing changes," Pekar said. "Just play hockey."
"He's really a dedicated hockey player on and off. He works hard off the ice. He's got a real engine on the ice. He's just one of those 'never-quit' guys," Hawerchuk said.
"…He's pesky. He's on pucks. He wants to turn pucks over. If he loses it, he wants to get it back as fast as possible. The rebounds to the corners, he wants to be the guy who retrieves it and makes sure the team keeps possession. He's got a hunger and a desire that not a lot of guys have in the game."
Pekar spent about a week at Sabres training camp this September before being assigned to Barrie. Watching star players up close and working with an NHL staff helped him come into the regular season with a lot of poise.
"Confidence wise and overall, I feel great," he said. "When you're facing players like Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner, all these guys, you come to the OHL and you feel so confident. You just try to bring it from the camp to the OHL, what you learned from those guys."
As the season progresses, Pekar said he's going to continue to work hard in the gym and he'll also be focusing on his footwork and technique, particularly when it comes to digging pucks out of the corners.
He's learning a lot from Hawerchuk, the Sabres Hall of Famer who posted 385 points in 342 games with Buffalo in the early '90s. Hawerchuk played 1,188 NHL games and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001. He's been the coach at Barrie since 2010.
"He's teaching us the NHL-type of game - all the little details," Pekar said. "He loves the game and definitely knows the game really well."
Hawerchuk is using Pekar on special teams as well, and Pekar has been able to produce no matter the situation. Of his six goals, two have come on the power play and two have come shorthanded.
"He's real versatile. We use him in all situations," Hawerchuk said. "He's one of the go-to guys, that's for sure.
"…There might be nights where maybe he doesn't have the hands or whatever - like we all go through at times where we don't have our best stuff - but that never deters his effort. He's very consistent. Night in, [night out,] day in, day out, he's bringing it."
He has visions of winning a championship with Barrie and, on a personal level, getting better every day.
"I just want to play my game as much as I can and try to produce as much as I can," he said. "My biggest goal is to develop into an NHL player as soon as I can."
Barrie is set to play a trio of games on the road this weekend. They'll be in Windsor on Thursday, in Saginaw on Friday, and in Flint on Sunday.
UPDATE (3 p.m.): The Sabres have signed Pekar to a three-year, entry-level contract.
Across the pond
Defenseman Linus Lindstrand Cronholm (2018, fourth round) collected his first points of the season for IK Pantern of the Swedish league Allsvenskan. He tallied an assist last Wednesday against AIK and scored against Leksands IF on Friday.
Class is in session
Linus Weissbach's (2017, seventh round) sophomore season at Wisconsin is off to a good start as he collected a goal and an assist in his second game of the year, a 7-5 win over Boston College. In that same game, BC's Christopher Brown (2014, sixth round) racked up a pair of assists for his first points of the year.
Sabres prospects will be going head-to-head again in the college ranks when Philip Nyberg (2016, fifth round) and UConn battle Jacob Bryson (2017, fourth round) and Providence on Friday.
|Skater ||Position ||Team (League) ||GP ||G ||A ||PTS |
|Christopher Brown ||F ||Boston College (NCAA) ||2 ||0 ||2 ||2 |
|Jacob Bryson ||D ||Providence (NCAA) ||3 ||1 ||1 ||2 |
|Ivan Chukarov ||D ||Massachusetts (NCAA) ||- ||- ||- ||- |
|Marcus Davidsson ||F ||Djuragardens (SHL) ||8 ||0 ||4 ||4 |
|Casey Fitzgerald ||D ||Boston College (NCAA) ||2 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
|Miska Kukkonen ||D ||Tappara U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga) ||14 ||0 ||3 ||3 |
|Oskari Laaksonen ||D ||Ilves (Liiga) ||12 ||1 ||5 ||6 |
|Linus Lindstrand Cronholm ||D ||IK Pantern (Allsvenskan) ||4 ||1 ||1 ||2 |
|Brett Murray ||F ||Youngstown (USHL) ||5 ||1 ||2 ||3 |
|Philip Nyberg ||D ||UConn (NCAA) ||2 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
|Matej Pekar ||F ||Barrie (OHL) ||10 ||6 ||5 ||11 |
|Mattias Samuelsson ||D ||Western Michigan (NCAA) ||3 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
|Linus Weissbach ||F ||Wisconsin (NCAA) ||2 ||1 ||1 ||2 |
|Maxwell Willman ||F ||Boston University (NCAA) ||2 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
|William Worge Kreu ||D ||Linkoping J20 (SuperElit) ||7 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
|Goaltender ||Team (League) ||GP ||W ||L ||OTL ||SOL ||GAA ||SV% |
|Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen ||Sudbury (OHL) ||7 ||5 ||2 ||0 ||0 ||2.76 ||.919 |