By Thomas Becker
The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) has been a well of game-changing recruits for the UPEI Panthers, who may have found another one in Jaden Peca.
In recent years, head coach Forbes MacPherson brought in all-Canadian Owen Headrick (Erie Otters), future all-star Kyle Maksimovich (Erie Otters) and gritty twins Darian and Drake Pilon (Sudbury Wolves), all of whom made an immediate impact.
Sharing a similar career path to that of his past competitors turned teammates, it's understandable why there's excitement surrounding the 21-year-old and what he could bring to the team.
"His style of play fits this group of players we have," MacPherson said. "He's a player who plays with a lot of speed. He also has a lot of grit to his game and he competes hard."
The tenacious forward carved out a strong OHL career as a member of the Barrie Colts and the Soo Greyhounds. In 244 games, Peca recorded 44 goals and 90 assists for a 0.55 points per game (ppg) average. Over time, he only got better, as his scoring output improved to 0.68 ppg in his final three seasons. For comparison's sake, Maksimovich averaged 0.96 ppg, while Darian Pilon posted 0.45 ppg during their OHL careers. If Peca's numbers translate to the AUS like it did with his new teammates then he too could become a vital piece in the Panthers' championship pursuit.
"I believe the transition will be fairly easy knowing I have former opponents and friends on the team who can help me adjust from the OHL to AUS," Peca said. "I'm a very hardworking, energetic playmaker who would do anything to give my team the upper hand."
That's encouraging news for MacPherson and his staff as they try to assemble a productive lineup that has one veteran forward in Filip Rydstrom.
"It's going to be a very young team, especially the forward group," the bench boss said. "There's always a transition into this league and our job is to shorten the curve. We feel like if we can add another piece or two to this core that we can be competitive."
The Panthers can look at the Acadia Axemen as a model of turning a youthful roster into a championship-calibre team. In 2018-19, the "rebuilding" Axemen finished second to last with a 10-18-2 record. The following year, they shattered expectations and were one of the best teams in the country during a 19-9-2 campaign.
Peca's hoping his inclusion to an already promising nucleus could yield similar results.
"I'm hoping to have a positive impact on the team's success this year with positive leadership and a willingness to do whatever it takes to come out on top at the end of each game."
And with so much inexperience on this team, he'll get every opportunity to show his worth.
"I intend to set myself apart from others by showing the hard work, maturity level and leadership qualities that I've acquired throughout my hockey career."
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