Top 25 Under 25, #8: Matt Peca is aiming to make the Lightning this fall
At age 24 and with a few NHL games played last season, Matt Peca is the candidate to make the Lightning in camp.
The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Raw Charge writing staff. Four writers, plus a special guest, ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2017 in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked, plus Honorable Mentions.
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Matt Peca is another skilled forward who the Lightning were able to grab late in the draft because of his small size. He was the 201st overall pick in the 7th round in 2011. Since then, he’s shown that his 5’9” height isn’t an issue that will keep him out of the NHL. He’ll head to camp looking to compete for a spot in Tampa Bay, but he’ll have plenty of competition from Adam Erne, Gabriel Dumont, Cory Conacher, and a few other players in similar situations.
In his second year as a pro, Peca took another step forward in Syracuse. He put up 41 points and was a reliable part of the team that went all the way to the Calder Cup Final. He slid up and down the lineup as the roster shifted due to injuries in Tampa, but was a consistent contributor. He also played ten games with the Lightning and scored his first career NHL goal.
Ten NHL games with very limited minutes isn’t much of a sample to judge play but he didn’t look overmatched. He was a break-even player in terms of his impact on shots and looked capable of playing at the speed of an NHL game. That experience will serve him well as he looks to take the next step this year and find some consistent minutes in Tampa.
The chart below shows some key statistical measures of his play in Syracuse this year. The data is all 5v5 only comes from prospect-stats.com. The numbers don’t look overly impressive especially compared to some of his competition to make the team this year like Adam Erne.
While Peca’s overall point totals this year look fine, when we dig in a little more specifically like this, we see some concerning trends. Just 22 of his 41 points occurred at 5v5. While power play production is good, it isn’t as consistent and doesn’t translate as well from the AHL to the NHL. Also an issue here is that 14 of his 29 assists are secondary assists. And we know that secondary assists are less reliable and again less likely to indicate future success in the NHL.
Compare this performance to someone like Adam Erne, who we featured two days ago, and you can see the difference. Erne has much better primary scoring rates at 5v5, which gives us more confidence that his success will translate to the NHL level.
But none of this is to say that Peca won’t make the team at some point this year. He showed in his opportunities last season that he can play in the NHL. But the question becomes where his ceiling is. Based on his results thus far, it certainly seems to be in the bottom six and he may top out as a fourth line contributor on a good team.
As the NHL transitions away from “checking” lines and more towards fourth lines that can drive play and occasionally score some points, Peca could be an ideal fit in that role. He has the speed and skill to push the pace and get the puck into the offensive zone. What we don’t know is whether he has can score at even strength consistently enough to push himself further up the depth chart.
Heading into this season, Peca is one of the more interesting depth players in the organization. How he performs will have a huge impact on his NHL future. If he doesn’t make the team out of camp in October, he’ll still have every opportunity to contribute in Syracuse. If he takes advantage, he could find himself as one of the primary call up options. But the Crunch also have an influx of forward talent coming this season and if Peca’s progression slows, he could easily slip backwards on the depth chart as the younger more talented players develop.
My expectations is that we will see him as a regular contributor in the bottom six of an NHL team during his career. How soon that happens and whether it happens in Tampa remains to be seen. The Lightning are spoiled with forward talent. This is Peca’s year to show he deserves to be with the big club. Look for him to make a push to prove that when camp starts in September.