Prospect of the Week: February 10, 2014

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

The Prospect of the Week for February 10, 2014 is … Matt Peca, C, Quinnipiac Bobcats (NCAA – USA).

Matt Peca was one of the best-kept secrets in the NCAA until his natural hat trick last year in the East Regional Finals.

As the 2013-2014 collegiate hockey season got underway, much was expected from the junior forward. He was coming off an excellent post-season and regular season in which he had 15 goals and 15 assists. Many thought Peca would challenge for the Hobey Baker as the NCAA’s top player, but Peca found himself in a little different role.

Instead of playing wing on the top line he was put at his natural center position on more of a two-way line. While his role has changed (meaning less points), his special skill is still apparent. While he started slow statistically, he recently increased his scoresheet appearances.

He has seven points in his last three games, including four this past week to give him 25 for the season (10 goals). For this recent surge, he was named our Prospect of the Week.

On Friday, Peca had two goals and a shorthanded assist in then-No. 3 Quinnipiac’s 6-3 win over No. 14 Clarkson (QU fell to No. 4 on Monday). He added goal on Saturday in an upset loss to St. Lawrence.

The Lightning selected Peca in the seventh round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft out of Pembroke of the Central Canada Hockey League. Coached by former Bolt prospect and player Sheldon Keefe (now head coach at OHL Sault Ste Marie), Peca helped lead the Lumber Kings to the 2011 Royal Bank Cup as National Junior A Champions.

Peca had 72 points in 50 games that year, but fell in the draft due to his size (5-9, 175). He had several major junior teams fighting for his services that offseason, including a soap-opera-filled flirtation by Patrick Roy and the Quebec Remparts.

Peca eventually decided to honor his commitment to Quinnipiac.

Known for his high character and relentless motor, Peca matches his intangibles with a slick set of hands and exceptional vision. He will benefit from playing three or four years of NCAA hockey, allowing his frame to fill out so he’s better able to withstand the punishment of pro hockey. While he could be signed and join AHL Syracuse next year, it’s likely he stays in Connecticut to complete his degree and college eligibility.

When he finally starts his pro career – which seems like a given at this point in time – he’ll give the Crunch a year or two of solid two-way play and some entertaining skill to make an impact on a scoring line. He could end up following Tyler Johnson’s footsteps as a small player making the NHL, though Peca doesn’t have Johnson’s speed or shot. At best, Peca could be an NHL scoring liner and power play specialist. He has a high floor because he is gritty enough to play on a checking line if needed.

The secret’s out: Peca is a rising prospect and potentially another diamond-in-the-rough for the Lightning. NCAA watchers can’t say enough good things about him.

Honorable Mention: Slater Koekkoek, D (Windsor, OHL); Cedric Paquette, C (Syracuse, AHL), Tanner Richard, C (Syracuse, AHL), Vlad Namestnikov, C (Syracuse, AHL/Tampa Bay, NHL).

2013-2014 Prospect of the Week winners:

February 3: Adam Wilcox, G, (Minnesota Golden Gophers, NCAA, USA).
January 27: Dylan Blujus, D, (North Bay Battalion, OHL, Canada).
January 20: Mark Barberio, D, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
January 13: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
January 6: Ondrej Palat, LW, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 17: Tyler Johnson, C, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 10: Ondrej Palat, W, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 3: Cedric Paquette, C, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
November 26: Tyler Johnson, C, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
November 19: Jonathan Drouin, C/W, (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL, Canada).
November 13: Jonathan Drouin, C/W, (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL, Canada).
November 4: Nikita Kucherov, W, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 29: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 24: Henri Ikonen, W, (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL, Canada).
October 16: Nikita Kucherov, W, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 9: Henri Ikonen, W, (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL, Canada).
October 1: Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, (Salavat Yulaev, KHL, Russia).
September 24: Adam Erne, W, Tampa Bay (NHL) and Quebec (QMJHL)