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Top 25 Under 25: #24 Matthew Peca

The high-scoring NCAA forward, who just finished his junior season at Quinnipiac, holds serve from last year's Top 25 Under 25, where he also ranked 24th.

Justin K. Aller

After finishing in the same spot in last year's countdown, Quinnipiac forward Mattew Peca comes in at #24 in this year's Top 25 Under 25 following his junior season in the ECAC (Eastern College Athletic Conference) of the NCAA where he scored 38 points in 40 games for the Bobcats.

Here's how the panel ranked him:

Kyle Alexander John Fontana Clare Austin Mike Gallimore Clark Brooks
NR 23 NR 23 20

Last Year's Rank: 24

After a sophomore season that saw his point totals dip a bit from 39 points down to 30, Peca got back to his near point-per-game scoring levels as a junior. Becoming a more well-rounded offensive player has been a stated focus for Peca, and he managed to keep his elevated goal-scoring from a year ago with 12 goals in 39 games in 2013-14 while also boosting his assist total back up (to 26, from 15 a year ago). The point totals reflect a player who is succeeding in both creating opportunities for others and converting on his own scoring chances.

The 21-year old center finished tied for 8th in scoring in the ECAC on 10.8% shooting, and scored just 4 of his 12 goals on the power play, relying instead on his speed, skill, and skating to do most of his damage at even strength.

The biggest concern with Peca remains his size. Quinnipiac's website hasn't updated since last year, but he's still listed on their depth chart at 5'9 and 165 pounds, which is small even for small guys. Hopefully a full season of NCAA-style training, with game days condensed mostly on weekend, has seem him put some more weight on and get a little big stronger.

Size concerns notwithstanding, the upside with Peca is still there, perhaps moreso than ever. He's a great skater with very high top-end speed and good instincts around the net and in the offensive zone. He's capable of outstanding outbursts of offense, including a 2 goal, 1 assist performance against Clarkson on February 7:

The question will be whether those skills will translate to the professional game against bigger, faster opponents, and how soon. He's yet to be signed to an entry-level contract by the Tampa Bay Lightning, but with one year of NCAA eligibility left and no rush for him to turn professional, he'll likely finish out the 2014-15 season with Qunnipiac. The Bolts will hold his rights up to 30 days after he finishes or leaves school, so this will be the last year for the Lightning to sign him before he could become a UFA next summer -- think Justin Schultz and the Anaheim Ducks, although with a much lower profile.

If he's to be kept in the organization, getting Peca under contract sometime this year is the next step. After that, a jump to one of the Bolts' minor league affiliates -- likely either the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL or the Florida Everblades of the ECHL -- will be a good test for how ready Peca is for a more physical game and a longer, more grueling schedule of games compared to the relatively easy 40-game schedule in college.