If you’ve been following OTF for a while now, you’ve seen Eric’s amazing prospect reports every year. He does a great job breaking down a prospect’s skills and where they should fall in the draft. What I want to do with this series is take a look at some of my favorite prospects from another angle: how would they fit into Nashville’s prospect pool? I’ll look at things like star probability, underlying numbers, and what I think of a player from my watches to give you all the reasons why you should want the player.
For my second player in this series, I’ll be looking at John-Jason Peterka, a 5’11” left winger/center from the DEL’s EHC München. Peterka has been a pre-draft riser for many, with his dynamic skating ability and intriguingly rapid development in this past year attracting lots of attention—albeit less than his fellow German Tim Stützle.
Ranked 23rd in Bob McKenzie’s final draft board (a ranking that closely reflects the pulse of scouts and GM’s thoughts on prospects), Peterka falls well within the range that we’d expect Nashville to be picking, and especially interests me with his massive improvements as a defender and overall player in such a short time. Mike Stromberg over at All About The Jersey did a great writeup of his own on Peterka, which you can read here for a little bit of a different voice on the young German. Now, to the important questions:
What makes him good?
Peterka is a projected first-round pick for three big reasons:
1.) Hockey IQ
This is where Peterka gets me really, really excited about how he projects as an NHL player. His vision for space on the ice, both on and off of the puck, is absolutely his biggest strength. The ability to identify passing lanes, to look for the smallest shifts in skating momentum to take advantage of potential rush opportunities; the careful, always deliberate approach on both offense and defense—it’s all there, and it always has been to some extent.
Peterka wasn’t heralded as a true first-round talent until this past season, and a major reason why he is now is the fixes he made to his game to become a 200-foot player. Previously a lackluster defender, he now makes his case for the top 25 prospects as a relentless two-way player who gained an enormous amount of skill in only a year.
GMs tend to love those kinds of guys, and while I rarely agree with the 200 Hockey Men on most things, I’ll concede that I tend to look for draft risers (historically, they tend to be the guys who get taken late in the first round and become stars). Peterka stands out because his IQ gives him some good upside and a high floor, something likely to entice David Poile.
Peterka is a technically-sound, explosive skater. While not someone with elite lateral shiftiness, he is someone who can take advantage of creases in the defense with frequency and consistency. He’s not going to blow you away with his ability to break ankles or bully guys en route to a goal, but his top speed is around the top 15 among forwards in this class if we’re being conservative, at least by my eyes. It may not sound like I’m talking him up that much here, especially with this being one of his three big traits, but bear with me and you’ll understand why this is such a key strength.
Peterka never stops moving. Never. He’s constantly attacking the puck, taking smart gaps, or careening up the ice on the forecheck to establish possession. He isn’t a truly incredible skill player or offense generator, so many would question why I would like him so much for Nashville. This is the reason. Guys with ridiculous motors, smart games, and great skating are almost locks to make the NHL, and with Peterka’s rapid improvement in such a short timespan, I have little doubt that he can clean up the deficiencies in his game (stickhandling especially) to become a true do-it-all guy.
David Poile loves effort guys, as do Predators fans (see: Rocco Grimaldi, Viktor Arvidsson), and they tend to fit in with the rush-based offensive system that the organization seems to prefer. Where Peterka differs from the other two is his ability to make...smarter decisions. We’ve seen the organization draft two-way, high-effort wingers pretty high before (Miikka Salomäki, Austin Watson), but they weren’t guys who stood out off the puck the way the German does.
JJP still has room to improve in a lot of areas, but his work ethic on and off the ice—as evidenced by what I’ve seen on film and the difference between his play last year and this year—make me confident that he has the ability to maximize his talents.
Why is he a good fit in Nashville?
There are a multitude of reasons why I’d love to see the Predators take Peterka if they fall in the 20-31 range, but here are the big three:
1.) He’s going to be a monster off the rush
Nashville has historically liked coaches who scheme for offense by focusing on winning forechecking battles and creating rush attempts on deep breakout passes, with Peter Laviolette and John Hynes both falling solidly within this archetype. The home-run pass isn’t always an effective way to produce consistent offense, but when you have a smart, creative, and speedy player with ample skill, they can truly thrive and score at a level above their previous production.
A great example of this is Viktor Arvidsson’s breakout campaign, back when opposing teams hadn’t figured out how to defend his toolkit. Arvidsson has struggled this year, in my eyes, because he’s missing two of the key parts that compose an excellent rush player: creativity and efficient, smart decision making. Who has both of those things in spades? Oh yeah, that German guy we just talked about.
Peterka has shown signs of being a great player in transition already, grading out close to or better than guys like Lucas Raymond and Dylan Holloway from Will Scouch’s tracking data. He similarly grades out well in the dangerous passing category, being comparable to Noel Gunler despite playing in a much harder league.
Watching him, his skill with the puck on his stick doesn’t blow you away, but he has a solid shot and good enough puck handling to already be plus in that category in comparison to most young forwards getting drafted and developed. He’d fit right in with Milwaukee and could put up some big numbers in the AHL, likely in his D+2 year. If/when he arrived at the NHL level, I could see Peterka having rookie production and impact similar to a Joel Farabee, producing as a solid third-liner right away.
These are the kinds of prospects that Nashville seems to be heading toward: guys with solid upside and a high floor who can produce shooting volume and quality on odd-man chances.
2.) He’d probably be the second-best skater in the organization right away, and would be among the fastest, including NHL talent
Nashville teams love to forecheck (heh, get it, because we’re On The Forecheck), but lately it’s felt like the rest of the league has caught up to what was once counted among the fastest teams in the NHL. Adding another guy who can just see a gap and fly through it would be ideal to say the least, and it helps that Peterka has shown himself to be an incredibly smart player who can use his speed to create, rather than just careening up the ice without any plan in mind; his offensive style is very deliberate, as I said before.
You want guys like Travis Konecny or Alex DeBrincat because they command a huge amount of attention from the opposition’s defenders; the very presence of someone who can burn your defense with both play recognition and raw speed opens up possibilities and space for other guys on offense.
3.) He could develop into a true 200-foot player
Nashville has some intriguing forwards in the system, but I wouldn’t say that any of them stand out as potentially dynamic defenders, save maybe Philip Tomasino. Peterka’s massive jump on defense (which I keep citing over and over again as a reason I like him so much) puts him in a different standing in this area.
While not yet an elite two-way wing, and certainly not an elite two-way center, Peterka could easily become one and provide excellent defensive upside at the NHL level. His recognition of how plays break down in real time is already impressive, his stickwork and positioning off the puck are solid-to-great, and his motor and speed allow him to be an effective player on the backcheck and forecheck.
He’s already got a high probability to be an NHL player based upon his ability to provide a jolt to a team and provide good to great decision making and defense every night, and I have full confidence that he could grow into something even more.
Who does he compare to?
I don’t love doing direct comparables, because they tend to hype players up too much, so I tend to give my floor of what the player could be if they become an NHLer, a middling projection, and my ceiling under the same circumstances.
Floor: Ivan Barbashev
Barbashev has never been a truly outstanding player in his career, but at age 24 he’s a decent enough 3rd/4th-line guy who provided the Blues with cost-effective depth en route to a Stanley Cup. This is what I’d expect Peterka to be if he never developed his lateral movement or skill all that much and didn’t make the jump from defensively decent to objectively good/outstanding. Barbashev and Peterka both share the qualities of being a bit north-south, with good (not great) shots and the ability/willingness to score goals from the dirty areas.
Mid: Craig Smith
Oh baby, it’s everyone’s favorite Predator, Craig Smith. In all seriousness, these two are pretty similar in a lot of ways. High motor, responsible on defense, speedy but not necessarily dynamic, etc etc. Peterka projects to be a smarter player on offense than Smith, and is more of a playmaker than a volume shooter, but Smith holds a significant edge with his shot, so they grade out about even in my book. I think anyone would be happy to add a multi-time 50-point scorer who hovers in the 15-goal, 40-point range consistently. That’s a second/third line forward on this current Nashville roster who can provide you excellent depth and help win shifts.
Ceiling: Mike Richards
This is where Peterka got me really excited, because almost everything about him reminded me of the former Flyers captain’s best traits. Two-way, high-effort guy? Check. Not the biggest guy, but plays a simple, physical, and playmaking game? Check. Not the best shot, but can score goals with his willingness to drive the net and do the work in close? Check. While Peterka doesn’t have the skill or lateral agility that Richards had in his NHL prime, this is the kind of guy I think he could become if he puts it all together and really excels.
I’m not sure that he would ever put up 80 points, but he could become a really good scorer with good linemates while driving possession and transition and bringing great defense/penalty killing, albeit along the wing (in all likelihood). It’s unlikely that Peterka reaches true stardom or hits this peak, but if he were to ascend to his absolute maximum potential, this is the guy I’d compare him to.
What’s the final word?
I really, really like this kid for a late first-round pick. He’s got more upside than recent players of his model taken by Nashville, and I feel he has a strong likelihood to be an NHL regular in the future. While he doesn’t have the tantalizing dynamic skill of some of the other players who could be available in these picks, I fully believe that he would be a great addition to the organization. If Nashville ends up picking in the late first round, I’d love to nab him.