Matthew Peca has donned the Tampa Bay Lightning uniform for 20 games, ten in 2016-17 and another ten in 2017-18. Despite a modest experience in the NHL, the small 25-year-old center was a coveted player in the opening of the free-agent market.
After graduating from his first training at the Canadiens camp, Peca smiled fondly as he talked about his two-year deal and $ 2.6 million ($ 1.3 million a year).
“Yes, I was a little surprised to receive such an offer, admitted the center 5’8″ and 178 lbs. I realize it’s rare as a contract for a player with so few games in the NHL. But I want to show that I deserve this salary. ”
“I was really excited when I finalized this deal with the CH,” he continued. For a player in my position, a guy who is trying to reach the NHL on a regular basis, you are mostly looking for an opportunity to play. I had good seasons in Tampa and Syracuse, but it was time for me to have my two feet in the NHL, not just one. ”
Marc Bergevin did not throw 2.6 million out the window. The CH has calculated the risk to attract this former Lightning to Montreal.
“Before July 1, I spoke to several teams,” said Peca. Initially, there were 10 to 12 teams. I would say that I received two or three good offers (one-tier deal), but Montreal was the best choice. It was an easy decision. I wanted to join a team that would give me the chance to settle in the NHL. ”
The Calgary Flames also emulated the Habs on July 1 by offering a two-year contract and 2.5 million (1.25 per year) to striker Austin Czarnik. Aged 25, Czarnik had played only 59 games in his last two seasons with the Boston Bruins. But like Peca, the right winger had good offensive statistics in the American League.
The Gourde and Johnson models
In Tampa, Peca was trapped behind a multitude of good attackers. The Lightning was already betting on two exceptional centers in Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point. Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde can play as much in the center as in the wing. There was therefore congestion at this position.
But Peca does not like to say he’s stuck in the Lightning.
“When I got reminders with the Lightning, I showed that I could play in the NHL, I felt at my place,” he said. I think I played well during my trips to Tampa. But the Lightning was looking for attackers with different profiles, they wanted guys bigger and more robust for the last trios. I did not fit in their plan. They allowed me to leave. I do not have a grudge against the Lightning. ”
“I can get inspired by former teammates like Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde,” he chained. We all have different paths to the NHL. We are not all first-round picks that land in the NHL at 18 or 19 years old. I paid the price by playing a few seasons in the American League and I am rewarded for my patience. I’m a little disappointed that I have not managed to win a place with the Lightning, but I’m looking forward to meeting with the Canadiens. ”
A Trudeau as a mother
A native of Petawawa, Ontario, Peca will join the list of French-speaking players on the team. He expresses himself in the language of Molière with great ease.
“My mother is a Trudeau, she’s from Sudbury, where there’s a good francophone community,” he said. I studied in French from kindergarten to grade 12. But I lost it in my seasons at Quinnipiac University and Syracuse. ”
In Syracuse, Peca learned the basics of his trade with Benoit Groulx and Julien BriseBois, who replaced Steve Yzerman this week as CEO in Tampa.
“They had a very positive influence on me,” he said. They have great demands for their players, both Ben and Julien. I had good discussions with them, they were not afraid to tell me my weak points. ”
In ten games last year with the Lightning, Peca earned 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists). He has amassed 46 points (13 goals, 33 assists) in 63 games with the Syracuse Crunch.