How does a guy who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 219 pounds seem to go unnoticed more often than not in a sport that requires split-second decision making, tremendous athleticism and the speed, skill and stamina to perform at the highest level? Simple. By doing his job.
It sounds odd, but that's the case with defensemen like Ducks rookie Jaycob Megna. The 24-year-old is a mix of new school and old school - his skating, puck-moving skills and active stick perfect for the modern-day NHL and his dependable stay-at-home style an homage to the days of old.
"If I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, and I'm not making mistakes, you shouldn't see too much of me," Megna said with a laugh after a recent practice. "If I'm out there running around, helter skelter, I'm probably not playing the way I should be playing.
"I try to be as poised as I can be when I get the puck and just make quick, simple plays, and not make the game harder on myself, especially with how good the guys are at this level. You can't afford to be messing around with the puck or trying things out of your comfort zone."
Back in September Megna made strides throughout training camp and the preseason, one of 62 players and one of 19 defensemen who attended camp. With blueliners Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen still recovering from offseason shoulder surgeries, Megna made the most of the opportunity by doing what he does best - playing a safe, smart and reliable game. His hard work and solid showing earned him a spot on the coveted opening night roster, and the easy-going defenseman has been a fixture on the Ducks blueline ever since.
The sports lineage in the Megna family is strong. His dad, Jay, was a defensive back (DB) at East Tennessee State and went on to play in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints in the 1980s. His mom, Jacqueline, was an All-American in water polo in high school. His older brother, Jayson, plays in the Vancouver Canucks organization and his sister, Jessica, played on the Florida State University club softball team.
Though he spent most of his youth in the Chicago area, Megna's roots are firmly set in Southern Florida. He was born in Plantation and calls the Fort Lauderdale area home in the offseason. His parents eventually moved back to the Sunshine State after raising their three children in Chicago, and they had the chance to see their youngest son on a recent Ducks road trip through the region. Among them were 20-plus friends and family who saw Jaycob play at the BB&T Center in Sunrise (home of the Florida Panthers) and Amalie Arena (home of the Tampa Bay Lightning) in late October.
"It was great," Jaycob recalls. "I got to see both sides of the family. It was an awesome experience."
Megna got to the NHL by taking the college route, and his three years at Nebraska-Omaha were valued immensely. "I was a little bit of a late bloomer," he says. "I went to the USHL [United States Hockey League] my senior year of high school. College has always been important to me and my family growing up in the States. That is kind of the route most of the guys take unless you're a high-profiled prospect. That was always the plan for me."
During the summer after Megna's freshman season his name was called at the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh (in his second year of eligibility), and it wasn't until the seventh round when it happened. In fact, Megna was the second-to-last player selected in the entire draft (the LA Kings drafted defenseman Nick Ebert with the final selection, 211th overall). Megna went on to play two more years with the Mavericks before he signed a three-year entry-level contract with Anaheim on April 4, 2014.
The next stage of his development took him to Norfolk, Virginia, where he learned the ropes at the pro level with the Admirals, Anaheim's former AHL affiliate before it moved to San Diego. Megna finished the 2014 season with the Admirals and then appeared in 32 games the following season.
Upon the club's relocation to San Diego, Megna became the Gulls' standout shutdown defenseman. He credits the tutelage of Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins and assistant coach Marty Wilford for helping him make the transition from college to professional hockey. "They've definitely played a major role," he says. "Just getting me to this level not only on the ice, but off the ice. Keeping the right attitude and approaching it one day at a time." This past June, the Ducks signed Megna to a two-year, two-way contract extension through the 2018-19 season.
While Megna admits there hasn't been a specific "Welcome to the NHL moment" just yet, every shift provides a new challenge. "The competition level through all four lines is amazing," he says. "You have to be ready from the puck drop no matter who you're out there against. Every night it could be somebody. If you're not ready, they could embarrass you. It's definitely a learning curve. The intensity level is constant, and it's high."
For now, Megna is staying at a nearby hotel with his fiancée, Kasey, and their Doberman, Boomer, a trio undoubtedly enjoying the laid-back lifestyle of Southern California. "We spend a lot of time at dog parks, checking out the sights," he says. "We take [Boomer] everywhere. It's been a busy time, but we enjoy it."
Like any young player, Megna knows his time at the NHL level isn't set in stone, but he wouldn't trade it for anything.
"It's been an awesome experience," he says. "It's been my dream, something I've worked for since I was young. To finally be up here and playing in the NHL has been an awesome journey so far. I'm looking forward to continuing it."