Buffalo Sabres 2023-24 Player Report Card: JJ Peterka

Buffalo Sabres 2023-24 Player Report Card: JJ Peterka

In a season in which their formerly red-hot offense went stone cold, the Buffalo Sabres saw a new star emerge. Second-year forward John-Jason Peterka made a quantum leap in his sophomore campaign and transformed into the Sabres’ biggest threat practically overnight. It was one of very few things that went right during the 2023-24 season for Buffalo and the team and fans alike are hoping that he can keep his momentum going come the fall.

Great Expectations From the Beginning

The Sabres have always known that Peterka was something special, otherwise, they wouldn’t have gone to the lengths they did to get him. Projected as a potential first-round pick in the 2020 Draft thanks to his combination of speed and skill that drew comparisons to Patrick Kane, he ultimately fell to the second round and Buffalo seized the opportunity, trading up with the San Jose Sharks to select him at 34th overall.

It may still be too soon to tell, but the move looks like the steal of the draft at this point. Since then, the German has done nothing but excel and has grown at a remarkable pace. In 2021, he made the jump to North America and joined Buffalo’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Rochester Americans, scoring 68 points in 70 games and earning a spot on the AHL’s All-Rookie team at just 20 years old.

The Sabres needed no further evidence and brought him up for the 2022-23 campaign, in which he recorded a respectable 12 goals and 32 points. There was improvement to be had, but everyone watching knew that a potential star in the making was in front of them. As such, he was predicted to take another step forward in his second season, but it’s safe to assume he went beyond what anyone had envisioned.

Breaking on Out (Peterka’s Song)

It was immediately evident that the Peterka of the 2023-24 season was not the same model from years prior. While Buffalo stumbled out of the gate, he went full throttle from the outset, scoring the Sabres’ first goal of the campaign for the second year in a row. He went on to record 15 points in his first 20 games and by early December he had already matched his rookie goal total (in 48 fewer games).

It proved to be more than just a hot start, however, and the winger just kept on rolling, standing at or near the top of nearly every category by season’s end. His 28 goals ranked second on the Sabres, his 50 points and plus-10 rating ranked fourth and he was their only player to appear in all 82 games. Not only did he set new career-highs across the board, but he stepped up big time and he became his team’s only consistent offensive threat, in the process transforming from a developing youngster to a poised, confident skater.

On the surface, 50 points might not seem all that impressive, but one has to consider that it came from a 22-year-old, one who received very little help from those around him. Almost all of the Sabres’ top stars underwhelmed throughout the season and his unexpected excellence picked up the slack. Had those other players performed to their usual standards, he might have fared even better.

Peterka’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time for the Sabres and his story was one of very few positives to come out of what was otherwise an incredibly disappointing season. Despite this, his breakout received a shocking lack of attention and it seemed at times as if anyone hardly noticed. Perhaps the media was too preoccupied with the rest of the team’s shocking regression or maybe they weren’t paying attention to the Sabres at all. Regardless, the Munich native was one of the NHL’s breakout stars of the season and deserves to be recognized as such.

Peterka Will Be Big in Buffalo’s Future

There are a couple of reasons that can be attributed to Peterka’s big break. For starters, he worked diligently last offseason to improve his two-way abilities and become more aware defensively, which he in turn credited for giving balance to his game and even making him better offensively. Teammate Alex Tuch gave rave reviews after witnessing his improvements.

“You saw him produce at a really high pace, you saw him score a lot of goals,” Tuch said of him. “He was out there in tougher situations, and that was because he earned it. He started playing a lot better defensively, he started playing better away from the puck, started being a little bit more physical and harder to play against and doing the right things.”

Defensive responsibility from the forwards is still a major problem for the Sabres and returning head coach Lindy Ruff, a big believer in such, will be tasked with fixing that issue among others. Peterka will fit right in with him and come the fall he’ll be a go-to player in all situations, which could improve Buffalo’s special teams across the board.

The second reason could be the experience he gained on the international stage. Representing his home country, he tore it up at the 2023 IIHF World Championship with six goals and 12 points in 10 games, helping Germany to the silver medal. He impressed once again at this year’s tournament with nine points in eight games as Germany was eliminated in the quarterfinal round.

There’s a strong argument to be had that Peterka was Buffalo’s MVP this season. Following in the footsteps of the Sabres’ former German greats like Uwe Krupp and Jochen Hecht, he’s carved out a permanent spot for himself and he’s still yet to reach his full potential. Assuming he can replicate his success next season and his teammates can regain themselves, the Sabres have the potential to be a formidable team once again. He’s entering the final year of his entry-level contract but it would be difficult to imagine him not being re-signed at this point.

Final Grade: A

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