Matej Pekar has been sidelined from true game action for seven long months, the product of a broken collarbone that brought his first OHL season to an early end in January. His wait ends tonight when the Sabres open the Prospect Challenge against the New Jersey Devils.
Might the long recovery prevent Pekar from playing the physical, antagonistic role we saw him take on so well a year ago? Don't count on it.
"I think I was born like that," Pekar said. "I don't think I can drop that game right now. I'm just going to do everything I can to get the team a 'W'. Yeah, I'm just trying to play my best hockey."
Video: PREGAME: Pekar
Pekar had a whirlwind six months after being drafted by the Sabres in the fourth round last summer, a selection he admitted caught him by surprise. He was a star at development camp, got off to a scorching start to his junior career in Barrie and then represented the Czech Republic at World Juniors.
It all came to a screeching halt with his injury in January, yet Pekar found ways to make the most of his time spent rehabbing. He was kept off the ice for more than six weeks, time he utilized to work on his strength. He worked his way back and spent the end of the season practicing on an amateur tryout with Rochester, which he described as an invaluable experience in terms of learning professional habits.
Even as late as this summer, he spent over a month in Buffalo rooming and skating with first-round pick Dylan Cozens. He got to know the organization in the meantime, including an appearance at Sabres Fan Fest in August.
With all that experience behind him, Pekar said he expects to begin this season a better player than he was when he last suited up for game action. At that point, he had already scored 36 points (14+22) in 33 games with Barrie.
"I thought my game was good back in January, but it was January," he said. "I'm seven months from that and I hope my game is even better."
Pekar will skate on the left side of a line with Cozens - who was cleared to return from a thumb injury on Thursday - and right wing Lukas Rousek. Pekar lit up when asked about his impression of Cozens following a month of informal skates.
"Oh, great player," Pekar said. "Great player overall. His shot is amazing. He's strong for his age, he's a really good skater, and I think he's got a really bright future ahead of him."
Puck drop between the Sabres and Devils is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game will be streamed live on Sabres.com within the team's local broadcast market.
68 Victor Olofsson - 74 Rasmus Asplund - 52 Andrew Oglevie
73 Matej Pekar - 42 Dylan Cozens - 93 Lukas Rousek
76 Pascal Aquin - 25 Arttu Ruotsalainen - 82 Kyle Olson
84 Sebastian Vidmar - 75 Bobby MacIntyre - 57 Brett Murray
78 Jacob Bryson - 10 Henri Jokiharju
44 Brandon Hickey - 3 William Borgen
56 Kurt Gosselin - 45 Casey Fitzgerald
34 Jonas Johansson
60 Matthew Welsh
*Based on Friday's morning skate and subject to change