Bolt Prospect of the Week: 9-27-15

We continue our Bolt Prospect of the Week award this season, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for his recent contributions on and off the ice.

The first Bolt Prospect of the Week for the 2015-2016 season, for the week ending September 28, is … Matthew Peca, C, Tampa Bay Lightning/Syracuse Crunch.

The last Lightning prospect to wear No. 63 as a camp number turned out to be pretty good at the hockey, and the latest prospect to wear it is off to an impressive start.

Tyler Johnson wore 63 before switching to his customary No. 9, then was a Calder Trophy finalist for the NHL rookie of the year. A year later he was a playoff hero, helping the Lightning to a Stanley Cup Finals berth before breaking his wrist and playing the final series significantly limited.

Matt Peca was playing center for Quinnipiac University when Johnson was proving NHL doubters wrong two years ago. Two weeks ago he was lighting it up for the Lightning in their prospect tournament and took that momentum into the Lightning’s main camp and preseason games.

Peca, who could challenge for Syracuse’s leading scorer this season – his first as a pro, had an assist in his first NHL preseason game, a 5-2 road loss to a stacked Nashville club. Two days later he scored, added an assist, and was dangerous on nearly every shift. He was named First Star in the 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers.

Those performances earned him our Prospect of the Week award.

As expected, Peca was assigned to AHL Syracuse’s camp a few days later in time for the Crunch’s flight to their training camp in Lyon, France. There may have been people to meet him at the airport to congratulate him on the Prospect of the Week award, we don’t know. We’re going to assume it happened.

Peca is a gritty, high-character, point-producing-yet-2-way forward with an underrated skill-set. Whether he’s the next Tyler Johnson or Cory Conacher remains to be seen, but for now Syracuse will enjoy the offensive prowess and effort he brings every night.

Despite the expectations of others, Peca isn’t putting any pressure on himself – at least publically.

“I try not to have too many expectations,” he said at the prospects tournament. “I think it's better that way, but [this year is] just learn as much as you can, be a sponge, and learn from the older guys and just come to work every day and keep it simple.”

The Crunch’s coaching staff expects big things, however.

“He will be a big part of Syracuse this year,” Crunch coach Rob Zettler said of Peca. “We’ll count on him to do a lot of things. He’s a skilled player, he’s fast, and he’s smart.

“He'll be prominent on the PK, he'll get some power play, and 5 on 5. When I look at our lineup, we're pretty deep up front, and he's a centerman with some speed, so we need that.”

Peca wore No. 22 in his brief stint with Syracuse after captaining Quinnipiac last spring. His customary No. 20 is now open… but 63 is not (Philippe Paradis).

BP Rank: 8

Honorable Mention: Dennis Yan, W, Shawinigan QMJHL; Slater Koekkoek, D, Tampa Bay NHL

(USA Today photo)