It was this time a year ago when Sabres fans likely first took notice of Matej Pekar.
The pesky Czech forward, a fourth-round draft pick in 2018, was flattened by an open-ice hit from then-rookie Rasmus Dahlin during drills at Sabres development camp and nearly came to blows with mild-mannered Casey Mittelstadt during the event’s annual 3-on-3 tournament, the French Connection Cup. Pekar scored twice in the tournament.
But this time, the 19-year-old is forced to sit and watch.
Pekar spent a portion of Friday afternoon’s session at Harborcenter standing behind a goal, on the spectator side of the glass, his arms crossed and a dark blue hoodie pulled up over his head, as he nurses what he said was a minor shoulder injury suffered a couple of weeks ago.
“But everything is getting better and I should be back,” Pekar said. “It’s nothing serious.”
In the interim, Pekar is trying to remain positive.
“I’m just trying to enjoy it here,” Pekar said. “Even though I’m not skating, I’m still around the guys and obviously meeting new people. Every time I’m here in Buffalo, it’s a great time.”
It’s been some time since Pekar last played in a game.
The 6-foot, 170-pound winger broke his collarbone on Jan. 10 on a hit from Sudbury Wolves defenseman Liam Ross. The injury ended his first season with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, where he was coached by Hall of Fame former Sabres forward Dale Hawerchuk.
Pekar had posted 14 goals and 22 assists in 33 games.
Pekar also played five games for the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship, where he recorded no points and a minus-1 rating.
“It kind of gives me a chip on the shoulder, just to be back, to be even better,” Pekar said about missing time because of injury. “I’m just looking forward for the next game.”
Pekar joined the Rochester Americans in March, but never appeared in a game before the team’s first-round defeat in the Calder Cup playoffs.
He is expected to begin next season with the Amerks.
Pekar said he learned a great deal from his brief time in Rochester.
“Definitely how much work is ahead of me,” Pekar said. “The guys are so professional there, so strong, they do every single thing as good as they can. They put a stamp on every single pass, shot, stretch, workout, whatever they do, and that was definitely a big learning experience. It just showed me how good I have to be to make it to the professional level.”
Pekar was named the USHL rookie of the year after the 2017-18 season, when he had 14 goals and 40 assists in 56 games for the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
He signed an entry-level contract with the Sabres in October.
“It’s just my mindset right now to make the Sabres,” Pekar said. “Obviously, that’s my first thing to be focused on. But from then on, just got to try to be as good as I can and come in hopefully to rookie camp and show what I can do.”
Amerks re-sign Taylor Leier
The Rochester Americans signed forward Taylor Leier to a one-year AHL contract for the 2019-20 season, the team announced Friday.
Leier, 25, recently underwent surgery for an undisclosed injury and is expected to make a full recovery, according to the team.
Leier recorded 42 points (22 goals, 20 assists) in 69 games between the Amerks and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last season. Leier had 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) in 35 games with Rochester.
The Sabres acquired Leier from the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 17 in exchange for Williamsville native Justin Bailey, a second-round pick in 2013.