BUFFALO – Matej Pekar acknowledged he had been thinking about this opportunity. Sure, it’s just an NHL preseason game. But for the Sabres prospect, tonight’s exhibition represents another small milestone.
“It’s happening,” Pekar said after he prepared for the Sabres’ road contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets, his preseason NHL debut. “I just have to be ready for it.”
While Pekar, 19, is probably a longshot to crack the Sabres, his mix of skill and grit have impressed the team’s brass throughout rookie and training camp.
In the Prospects Challenge tournament, Pekar showcased his offensive and agitating abilities, scoring and getting underneath the opponent’s skin.
“Just the energy he’s shown in the development and rookie camp,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said of what earned Pekar an opportunity. “I mean, it was fun for me to see him in action.”
Don’t expect the Czech to change his style tonight against NHL talent.
“It doesn’t matter who I play against,” Pekar said inside KeyBank Center. “If something happens, (it) happens. I’m just going to focus on my game and I’m not going to focus on who’s on the other side.”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Pekar has been centering Vladimir Sobotka and Kyle Okposo, two NHL veterans he tries to soak up knowledge from.
“These guys are great, helping a lot,” Pekar said. “Whatever they do, I’m just trying to take as much as I can from them and bring it to my game. They’re really good players, experienced a lot of games in the NHL.”
So far, Pekar said camp has taught him the work that lies ahead to crack the big leagues.
“Players are great here, big guys all over – off and on the ice,” said Pekar, a star with the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts. “I just see what kind of level I have to get on to actually make it.”
The Sabres drafted Pekar in the fourth round in 2018, 94th overall.
Here is the rest of tonight’s lineup:
– C.J. Smith, Casey Mittelstadt and Sam Reinhart
– Victor Olofsson, Rasmus Asplund and Kyle Olson
– Scott Wilson, Arttu Ruotsalainen and Jean-Sebastien Dea
– Jake McCabe and Brandon Montour
– Jacob Bryson and Will Borgen
– Brandon Hickey and Casey Fitzgerald
Krueger said goalie Linus Ullmark will start and be relieved by Andrew Hammond.
The Sabres fielded a stronger lineup for Monday’s 5-4 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Penn State.
Blue Jackets star defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are expected to play.
Olson, who’s on a tryout, believes his compete level earned him a spot in training camp. Like Pekar, he displayed a scoring touch and physicality during the Prospects Challenge.
Tonight will be his first NHL preseason game.
“I thought I had a pretty good showing at the camp, so I had a pretty good feeling that I’d be invited to main camp,” Olson said.
The Anaheim Ducks drafted Olson in the fourth round in 2017, 122nd overall.