JJ Peterka has scored 13 goals this season. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

JJ Peterka establishing himself as one of Sabres’ top scorers in second year

BUFFALO – When winger JJ Peterka’s rookie season ended nine months ago, the Sabres challenged the youngster, telling him “you got to be better.”

He contributed 12 goals and 32 points in 2022-23, strong signs he belonged in the NHL. Still, as his minus-15 rating and long offensive droughts illustrated, he was a raw work in progress.

Peterka was pretty good, but hardly good enough.

“Even our year-end meeting was one of, ‘Don’t be content with your year and don’t be satisfied with your year,’” Sabres coach Don Granato said following Friday’s practice. “And I thought he took that to heart over the summer to come back here in the mindset last year was not good enough. And he’s kind of carried that in.”

Peterka, who turned 22 on Sunday, has emerged as perhaps the Sabres’ most improved player through 43 games this season.

Entering this afternoon’s game against the San Jose Sharks at KeyBank Center, Peterka’s 13 goals rank third on the team, trailing only winger Jeff Skinner and center Tage Thompson. His 12 even-strength goals rank first.

The German’s 27 points rank fifth. He’s one of five players at plus-2, the team’s fourth-highest rating. His 115 shots on goal rank third, trailing Skinner and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.

“Sometimes when you think you had a good year last year … and you don’t have an appetite for more, you got nothing,” Granato said. “You’re going to get slapped, knocked down pretty fast in this league. And he’s had an appetite for more.”

Granato has upped Peterka’s ice time to 16 minutes, 7 seconds an outing this season, a minute and a half more than last year.

Peterka traces his development as a sophomore to “experience.”

“Having more games in the league,” he said. “Kind of knowing exactly what comes and, yeah, I think, just being more confident than I was last year.”

Sabres captain Kyle Okposo said he has seen Peterka showcase that fresh confidence by “how he’s using his skill set and speed.”

“People around the league are starting to kind of be aware of him and when he’s on the ice,” he said. “You can tell that he’s getting a lot more respect from defenders, and I think it’s because he’s created space for himself.

“In the NHL, if you’re a player that can create and space for yourself, you’re going to have a lot of opportunities. And I think he’s done a really good job of that for the whole year.”

After equaling his rookie goal total in 48 fewer appearances, Peterka recently endured his first slump this season, a 12-game goal drought. He ended it early in Thursday’s 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators, grabbing a pass from center Dylan Cozens to open the scoring.

Naturally, after potting his first goal in exactly one month, he felt relieved.

“It was big,” said Peterka, a second-round pick in 2020, 34th overall. “Just seeing that one get in finally is for sure a good feeling.”

Peterka and Cozens combining to score a goal is nothing new. For much of last season, they teamed with winger Jack Quinn to form the Sabres’ second line. Since Quinn returned from a torn Achilles tendon last month, they’ve regularly been a trio again.

For some of the second period in Saturday afternoon’s 1-0 loss, the Sabres had just three defensemen – Dahlin, Mattias Samuelsson and Erik Johnson were all unavailable – so they briefly moved winger Zemgus Girgensons to the back end.

While Dahlin and Johnson eventually returned, Samuelsson, who entered concussion protocol early in the period, remained sidelined against the Vancouver Canucks.

Rookie defenseman Ryan Johnson, 22, picked up some of the slack, skating 22 minutes, 22 seconds, the second-highest total of his 24-game career.

“Ryan was very good, looked fresh,” Granato said. “He looked energized. I thought he was consistent as a result, reliable. He had to step up. I was very happy with his game, and he’s moving along, obviously, very young in his career. To show improvement every day is great.”

The Sabres were scheduled to practice Sunday but canceled the session because of the snowstorm battering the region.

One thought on “JJ Peterka establishing himself as one of Sabres’ top scorers in second year”

  1. Great to see JJ Peterka establishing himself as one of the Sabres’ top scorers in his second year! He’s shown tremendous potential and dedication to the team, and I’m excited to see him continue to excel on the ice. Keep up the great work, JJ!

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