After spending the 2020-21 season with the Washington Capitals serving as a development coach, the Rochester Americans announced on Tuesday the hiring of former Buffalo Sabres captain Michael Peca as an assistant coach to Seth Appert's staff.
Following the conclusion of his 14-year playing career in the NHL with the Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets, Peca got into the operations side of hockey starting with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres of the OJHL in the 2011-12 season. He would serve as the general manager of the team from 2011 to 2019, while also serving as a head coach of the team, along with coaching the Jr. Sabres program at the U15 and U16 level through 2020.
While serving under Peter Laviolette's staff this past season, Peca was tasked with doing everything from running optional practices, running the taxi squad, cutting game video, putting up pre-scout videos and meetings, and much more. After the season, Laviolette told Peca he would love to have him back, but he felt it was more important to go out and get more responsibilities somewhere.
It turns out that Peca almost took a spot on Appert's staff ahead of the 2020-21 season In Rochester.
"I had really good conversations with Seth last year about the spot, and this year we just picked up where we left off," Peca said with Andrew Peters, Craig Rivet and Martin Biron during "The Instigators" on Tuesday. "There's a lot of synergy there. I haven't had the opportunity to meet Mike Weber yet in a coaching environment, but just my conversations with Seth, we're lock-step and key as far as ideology and philosophy and things like that. I think it's going to be a really good relationship."
Peca is set to take the spot vacated by Adam Mair on Appert's coaching staff when Mair was named the Sabres' new director of player development after Matt Ellis was promoted to Don Granato's coaching staff in Buffalo.
One thing Peca said he was looking forward to doing with the Amerks going forward is working with the young prospects such as J-J Peterka and Jack Quinn as they work towards the ultimate goal of earning a full-time position in the NHL with the Sabres. However, he said it's just as important to work with the veterans in the AHL, as they serve a vital role in the league as well.
"There's a lot of talk about the young guys and we've got to get them ready for the Buffalo Sabres, which goes without saying, but from my experience during the 1994 lockout, I felt the veterans had more of an impact on me sometimes than the coaches did," Peca said. "Just getting with the veteran players and making sure they understand their role and responsibilities too; I know they're still trying to forge careers, but they play a big role, and that's why the signings in free agency and the guys you get for Rochester sometimes are just as important as your coaching staff."
Another prospect that many will have their eyes glued on this upcoming season is goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who showed some promise with his future in the NHL during a short stint with the Sabres in the 2020-21 season. In four games played with Buffalo, the 22-year-old only posted a 1-3-0 record with a 3.88 goals-against average and .906 save percentage, but the young netminder was peppered in each game, facing an average of 37.3 shots per-game.
With NHL Free Agency opening this past Wednesday, the Sabres signed 40-year-old goalie Craig Anderson to a one-year contract after spending the 2020-21 season with Peca in Washington. This signing, along with the addition of Aaron Dell after letting Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark walk in free agency, could be an indication that Luukkonen is going to get every chance in training camp and the preseason to earn a starting job in Buffalo.
While Peca understands he may never get to work with Luukkonen in Rochester, he knows that the addition of a veteran like Anderson could do wonders for the rookie goalie.
"He is really good. He's super, super intelligent in the position. He was really good in the background," Peca said of Anderson. "He was really good when he was called upon, but he was really, really significant in the background with [Ilya] Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek. He was really good for those guys, and Craig can still play. ... He can be a really good fill-in guy and mentor for a young goalie, for sure."
You can listen to Peca's entire interview during "The Instigators" below: