The Tampa Bay Lightning took undersized forward Matthew Peca in the seventh round of the 2011 NHL Draft — and although he comes out of the same junior system as Martin St. Louis, it was a reasonable late round pick.
Yet another Canadian skater who chose to skip the CHL in order to maintain his NCAA eligibility, Peca is one of the smallest players even in the NCAA — although he spent college bulking up a bit (it’s estimated that he’s jumped from his draft weight of 155 lbs to closer to 170 lbs or so), his five foot eight stature is smaller than even the undersized players most teams look at.
He plays much like the other small, nimble forwards that have found a way to transition to the NHL stage — Johnny Gaudreau, St. Louis, even Mats Zuccarello all play a game that capitalizes on weaving throughout the other players on the ice rather than skating through them. Most successful but small NHLers treat the other players on the ice as obstacles to be outran, rather than attempting to engage in physical hockey; as a strong offensive player for Quinnipac University, Peca has shown that he’s more than capable of playing the game that way.
What separates him from many other smaller players, though, is that he’s actually a fairly strong player defensively.
Few undersized forwards get much time on the penalty kill, but Peca has spent most of his four year tenure with Quinnipac as a top contributor while a man down. He admitted after his freshman season that his goal was to develop a strong all-around game — although he already looked good as a fast, offensive skater, he wanted to provide consistent two-way play on the ice — and when he was ranked #24 on SB Nation’s Top 25 Under 25 in the Fall of 2013, he’d already made huge strides in that direction.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have confirmed that Peca signed a two year entry level contract with the team, and he’ll report to the Syracuse Crunch on an ATO for the time being.
It’s possible that the Lightning could bring Peca up next year to play with the big club, but the Red Wings-based front office is well known for preferring a little extra development time at every level of play — so it’s likely that Peca will get at least one year in the AHL before he’s brought up to the big leagues. The Lightning are stagnant on special teams, though, so if he can bring some of the strong play he developed at Quinnipac on both the man advantage and the man deficit he could see himself moving up the depth chart at a faster-than-normal pace.