Feb 21, 2022

By Suzie Cool


We’ve seen this a lot this season. With the pool of prospects that the Buffalo Sabres currently have developing within their pipeline, it’s almost not shocking anymore when one goes completely off over a weekend.


For example, like Rochester Americans forward Jack Quinn. Quinn made his National Hockey League debut with Buffalo on Jan. 11 and then returned to Rochester the very next day only to turn in his first of two four-point efforts on the week highlighted by a four-goal outing against the Belleville Senators.


Or we could take a more silent approach in forward Brandon Biro, who has really turned it up a notch since December, becoming one of the Amerks most dominant and consistent point-getters this year. Over Biro’s last 28 games, he’s had nine multi-point efforts and 31 points (9+23).


Which, again, not surprising considering Biro is now making his way up in the rankings as not one of the top prospects in the organization, but one of the top rookies across the entire American Hockey League. Quite literally, knocking on the door of making his NHL debut if he continues the roll he’s on.



The list, however, goes on when we look at Buffalo’s pipeline and one of the most talked about names prior to the 2021-22 campaign was that of Amerks forward JJ Peterka.


Prior to this season, Peterka spent two years in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL), tearing it up with Red Bull München. In two seasons with Red Bull, Peterka combined for 57 points with 23 goals and 24 assists in 84 games played. At just 17-years-old, the young forward made his professional hockey debut and had a breakout season with München in 2020-21, combining for 20 points in 30 games.


It's surprising that Peterka was still available when it came time to the Sabres to select him 34th overall in the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft before signing his three-year, entry-level NHL contract with the Sabres on Jun. 11, 2021.


While Peterka participated in the annual Prospects Challenge at HarborCenter in September and then was one of the last players reassigned to Rochester from Sabres Training Camp, his biggest concern to kick off the season was getting acclimated to the smaller ice in North America.



“I think I’m just way more comfortable with dealing with the smaller ice and with the physicality the league has to offer. I think I just grew as a player and my all-around game.”


More than halfway into the Amerks 2021-22 campaign, and getting two games in with Buffalo, Peterka now knows what aspects of his European game he can and can’t bring to the ice in North America.


“I think too much dangling, especially since the defenders are pretty good here. Just using my speed more is what’s helping me more here.”


With Rochester this season, Peterka has transitioned quite nicely to the American Hockey League. In 41 games with the Amerks, the young forward has racked up a team-high 40 points on 13 goals and 27 assists. He’s currently tied for second in rookie scoring while his 27 assists are tied for third-most among rookies and tied for 11th overall.


His second-half point production it what is most impressive, though. After scoring just four times through the first three months of the season, Peterka has notched 20 points (9+11) in 18 games to begin 2022, including goals in back-to-back games on three different occasions over that span.



Recently though, Peterka, who became the first Amerk this season to reach the 40-point mark, has really begun to flourish, especially in the Amerks last few games. Between this season and last, there’s a lot of opportunities for young players to step up and take on leadership roles with players being out with COVID, injured, on the Buffalo taxi squad or simply on recall with the Sabres.


Amerks head coach Seth Appert even admitted that prior to hitting the ice in the Northeast last weekend, indicating he wasn’t sure how his team was going to pull off a win or take away points considering the factors, most notably due to a depleted and injury-riddled lineup, his team was going to be up against heading into their season-long five-game road swing.


However, Peterka was ready to step up, especially in Rochester’s Tuesday night effort against the Bridgeport Islanders.



“You’re kind of looking around like, how are we going to win this game? How are we going to try to get points in this game? Then JJ really stepped up that night,” said Appert. “He had eight shots on goal, he played the right way, he played 25-26 minutes, got a penalty kill every other shift because we are so light in terms of our penalty kill number. These are things that he wouldn’t have been able to do. He wouldn’t have been able to deliver in hard-fought, low-scoring games at both ends of the ice offensively and defensively.”


Peterka went on to have a two-goal night as the Amerks prevailed 3-2 over the Islanders in an overtime affair. After going beyond regulation for the third-straight game of their season-long five-game road swing, the Amerks came away with two points on the night after Peterka’s second goal capped the 3-2 overtime win with 1:59 to go in the extra frame.


Appert admitted that over the last four games, Peterka has stepped up in ways that he probably wouldn’t have been able to at the beginning of the year.


“With the guys we have out, he really stepped up in a leadership way. By leadership, I mean, in his play because we needed him to have big time efforts this week with where the lineup is at, and he really did all four nights.”



Although, no matter how good Peterka continues to play he only strives to get better with some added responsibility that has been thrown his way due to depleted lineups.


“Just to get my overall game better, be a little more responsible in the D-zone. The last couple of games I also played some PK, so I want to work on that and become a better PK player, too.”


Looking back to the beginning of the season, Peterka is still the same skilled player that we’ve seen all year. Peterka is fast, has a hard shot with a good one-timer. However, Appert doesn’t feel his skill is what has grown throughout the season, but more so his daily habits that have finally paid off and allowed his skills to flourish.


“I don’t think it’s the skill that he’s grown with, I think it’s the habits,” said Appert. “His skill has always been pretty high. Now, I think he’s getting better at his skill requirements. His shot has gotten harder, his one-timer has gotten way better, but I think it’s the habits that he’s acquiring and putting into his game and the competitiveness and the detail that are allowing his game to grow and it’s allowing his skill to flourish.”

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