JJ Peterka scored three goals in five preseason games. ©2021, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres prospect JJ Peterka makes strong case to stick in NHL

BUFFALO – If the Sabres assign rookie JJ Peterka to the minors this week, his stint with the Rochester Americans could be short. The German arrived here last month nearly an NHL-ready prospect, having spent two seasons playing pro hockey against men.

Sabres coach Don Granato has watched Peterka, who scored in Saturday afternoon’s 3-1 preseason win over the Detroit Red Wings, acclimate quickly to North American hockey.

“He absorbs what’s in front of him, whether that be the opposition, his linemate, information from the coaches,” Granato said prior to the preseason finale inside KeyBank Center. “He internalizes it and he goes to work at it. He’s very advanced in that regard but he’s still young. I say all this and that is very exciting but you also do see his age in there as well. I’d say for his age, he’s advanced.

“Now, is he advanced enough to be a full-time NHL player?”

The Sabres must finalize their 23-man roster by 5 p.m. Monday. They still have 16 forwards. They will likely keep 13 or 14.

Peterka, 19, certainly made a convincing argument he should stick in the NHL. Saturday’s goal – he tipped in center Tage Thompson’s shot 6 minutes into the second period – was his third in his fifth preseason appearance and fourth point.

He spent the afternoon skating at right wing beside Thompson and Rasmus Asplund.

Peterka wasn’t expected to play Saturday after a bruised foot kept him from practicing Thursday and Friday. But the Sabres clearly wanted one more look at Peterka, who feels he has developed his defensive play throughout training camp.

“The biggest thing was the D-zone and exiting the D-zone and playing in the D-zone and chipping pucks and being in my spot there and defending my spot there,” said Peterka, a second-round pick in 2020, 34th overall.

Sabres goalie Craig Anderson, 40, made his second preseason start Saturday, stopping 18 shots while playing the entire game.

Anderson, the oldest goalie is Sabres history, is expected to start Thursday’s season opener against the Montreal Canadiens.

The veteran, of course, will be counted on as one of the Sabres’ leaders. But to become a strong voice in the dressing room, he must performed well.

“It’s tough to speak up when you’re not taking care of your own business,” Granato said.

Granato has already seen some of Anderson’s leadership qualities.

“He definitely puts the work in,” Granato said. “You see that in practice and his preparation for practice. So I think Craig’s in the line for where he should be. He’s doing the things he should be to compete.

“Now, time will tell. But we do welcome his experience, absolutely. He’s spoken up a couple times in meetings, and I thought each time he said the right thing.”

Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who has been nursing a soft tissue injury, did not play Saturday but is expected to practice Monday, according to Granato.

Dahlin, 21, struggled in his last outing, Tuesday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Swede has missed some critical practice time over the past several days. As opening night grows closer and the roster gets whittled down, Granato has been focusing on system installation.

“It’s not ideal and there is a lot of work,” Granato said of Dahlin missing time.

Granato acknowledged Dahlin “didn’t look himself his last time out.”

“But he’s a talented guy and he works hard,” he said. “It might be a good thing that he didn’t look or feel like himself the last time out.”

Granato moved Zemgus Girgensons, who has been playing center throughout camp, back to left wing Saturday beside center Cody Eakin and Kyle Okposo.

“It gives Zemgus some time on the wing, because maybe late in a game … one of the other centermen’s going on,” Granato said. “I could put (Casey) Mittelstadt out there but I also want Zemgus out there because he’s strong on the walls. So you shift him thinking of those critical situations with maybe a minute to go or against a top line. …

“I want guys to be able to get comfortable in more positions. You know how this game is. There’s bumps and bruises along the way and guys have to learn how to play different spots and perform in those spots.”

Girgensons scored the go-ahead goal 19:47 into the second period, capitalizing after Red Wings goalie Alex Nedeljkovic misplayed the puck short-handed.

Sabres newcomer Axel Jonsson-Fjallby skated in the pregame warm-up Saturday but couldn’t play because of a visa issue.

Someone claimed on waivers – they snagged the Swede from the Washington Capitals on Monday – must reapply for his visa, according to the Sabres. Traded players don’t have to reapply.

The Sabres were also hopeful Jonsson-Fjallby would play Tuesday.

John Hayden replaced Jonsson-Fjallby in the lineup.

“He comes to a team, he thinks he has a chance,” Granato said. “We had him penciled in the first game and then tonight it was after warm-ups, and we just had to pull the plug on it. So, yeah, that’s a tough one for him. It’s unfortunate.”

Granato said the Sabres plan to keep the 6-foot-7 Thompson, who was recently shifted to center, in the middle.

“I like him there,” he said. “I think the potential is just too great to shift him to the side. All the early tests or indicators, the intrigue is still high with him there.”

Sabres winger Vinnie Hinostroza’s empty-net goal sealed the win before an announced crowd of 6,607 fans. The Sabres finished the preseason 2-3-1.

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