BUFFALO – Matej Pekar couldn’t stop smiling. After eight months anxiously waiting on the sideline, the Sabres prospect will finally play a game again tonight.
“It definitely feels like forever,” Pekar said this morning after the Sabres prepared for their Prospects Challenge opener against the New Jersey Devils inside Harborcenter. “I haven’t played a game since January.”
On Jan. 10, the affable Pekar, 19, broke his collarbone with the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts, ending his season after only 33 games with the junior club.
Still, Pekar’s rookie campaign solidified his place among the Sabres’ top prospects. The center’s mix of skill and grit often makes him the most electrifying player on the ice.
Pekar impressed the Sabres so much they signed him to an entry-level contract after only 10 games with the Colts.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Czech loves thumping and agitating opponents, and he plans on showcasing his aggressive style in the rookie tournament.
“I think I can jump back in right now,” said Pekar, who compiled 14 goals and 36 points with the Colts. “I don’t think I can drop that game right now.”
Pekar, of course, relishes his role as a rat. Remember when he hit Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt in the head and shoved him during his first development camp?
Where does that edge come from?
“I honestly can’t tell you,” Pekar said. “Maybe I was just born with that. I don’t know, kind of the nature, maybe sometimes I’m super competitive. Hockey’s a physical sport, as long as it’s nothing dirty, I think there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Pekar, a fourth-round pick in 2018, 94th overall, tried to utilize his time away from game action wisely.
“I couldn’t skate for like the first six, seven weeks, so I just focused more on off-ice stuff,” said Pekar, who is listed five pounds heavier than last year. “I just felt that I was kind of behind with that.”
He added: “The injury helped me out to have more time to get stronger and heavier and hopefully better as well on the ice. I try to look at it as positives there.”
In March, the Sabres sent Pekar to the Rochester Americans to practice and get a feel for the pro hockey life. His brief stint with the AHL affiliate was an eye-opener.
“I loved it there,” he said. “I think it was great experience for me, definitely a great step moving forward that I saw how good players are in the pros. It was definitely a good measurement going into the summer how much work I had to put in.”
Pekar also spent about a month this summer working out in Buffalo, where he roomed with prospect Dylan Cozens, a center the Sabres drafted seventh overall in June.
The youngsters got to know each other well.
“We were roommates, so we were with each other for the whole day long,” Pekar said. “We were just into the same TV shows, too, so that made it easier. We had fun.”
Pekar has been skating on a line beside Cozens and Lukas Rousek.