PITTSBURGH -- Twenty-three years ago, Jay Megna gave his son his name. He wasn't going to give him the same athletic career path.
Jay's first son Jayson ("I think that was kind of like a little pun on words, I guess," Jayson said with a chuckle) didn't grow up wanting to play college or pro football like his father did. Instead, Jayson Megna chose hockey -- and as he participates in the Pittsburgh Penguins' development camp this week, Megna has is hoping to complete a rare four-levels-of-hockey-in-four-years superfecta.
Megna, a 23-year-old forward, will have the opportunity earn one of the vacant spots in the Penguins' lineup at training camp in September.
"Jayson Megna ... is one of those guys who can compete for the opportunity to play in Pittsburgh this season," said John Hynes, coach of Pittsburgh's American Hockey League affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
With the departures of Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Matt Cooke via free agency and Tyler Kennedy in a trade to the San Jose Sharks, the Penguins have openings up front. Among those taking part in Pittsburgh's development camp at Consol Energy Center this week, Megna is on the short list of those prominently in the running for one of those spots.
Should the Northbrook, Ill., native make Pittsburgh's season-opening roster, he would be on his fourth different team and league in as many seasons.
Megna closed out a two-season stint with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the United States Hockey League in 2010-11, then spent 2011-12 at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He was signed as a free agent by the Penguins after his freshman year and played the 2012-13 season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Megna put up five goals and seven assists in 56 games for the AHL club despite being hindered by a lower-body injury early in the season, then scored twice and finished with five points in 12 playoff games.
"He had an up-and-down year last year because of some injuries, but by the end he was definitely figuring it out," Penguins player development coach Bill Guerin said. "That's the thing -- two years ago, Jayson Megna was playing in the USHL -- one year in the USHL, one year in college hockey and then, bang, you're a pro. You don't just figure it out overnight. Most guys don't. And it's definitely a process. He... made big strides last year."
Megna made enough of an impression on the Penguins during the first half of the AHL season that he was invited to Pittsburgh's training camp after the NHL lockout ended in January. Although he didn't make the team, he did leave an impression.
Megna's speed and aggressive style are a good fit for the Penguins' organizational style and philosophy. Guerin said Megna is "definitely" capable of being an "energy guy" on one of the bottom two lines of an NHL team right now.
"He's going to be a speed guy," Guerin said. "I wouldn't put him as a big numbers guy but definitely an effective player. With his speed, he'll give people fits."
Speed comes naturally to Megna -- his father was fast enough in cleats to play football at East Tennessee State and have a brief career in the NFL long before Jayson was born.
Jayson may soon have company in the NHL. Jay Megna's second son, after Jayson, was named Jaycob. ("A funny way to spell it," Jayson said. "But I guess it kept with all our names."). He's a 6-foot-6 defenseman who was Jayson's teammate at Nebraska-Omaha two years ago and was selected by the Anaheim Ducks in the seventh round (No. 210) of the 2012 NHL Draft.
Jayson Megna said his dad wouldn't allow his sons to play football until they had grown up some. At a friend's birthday party at an ice rink when he was about 7 years old, Jayson immediately became enamored with skating.
"I had [my parents] sign me up for a house [hockey] league, and it just kind of took off from there," Jayson said.
"I played two years of football growing up -- one year of high school and one year before high school. It was fun, I enjoyed it -- but there were other sports that I enjoyed to play a lot more, I think. I played baseball and golf throughout high school, too. Football never really stuck, I guess."
Hockey sure did -- to the point that Megna is on the verge of making the NHL. One year into his professional career, Megna has been working hard to take that final step.
He has turned some heads in the year he's spent in the Penguins' organization. Both Guerin and Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald remarked this week at Megna's conditioning. To hear them talk, there's no question Megna could crack the Pittsburgh roster this season.
Megna admits he's much more at ease this year, his second as a pro.
"I definitely feel more comfortable than I did at the beginning of last year," Megna said. "I had a pretty good minicamp the first week I was in Wilkes-Barre and then I suffered a little bit of a lower-body injury and missed some time. It kind of took me a while to get my feet under me and get acclimated to the system.
"But after 50-some games and the playoffs, I think I have a pretty good handle. There's always things you can get better on and work on, but for the most part right now I feel a lot more comfortable than I did last year."