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Penguins' Jeffrey wants to secure regular spot

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- Dustin Jeffrey doesn't sugarcoat it. It hasn't been easy sitting and watching, playing in only one game for the Pittsburgh Penguins through the first three weeks of February.

He hopes to show enough Friday night that he won't be a healthy scratch much more.

Jeffrey skated with Tanner Glass and Craig Adams on the Penguins' fourth line during the morning skate Friday and likely will be in the lineup when Pittsburgh faces the Florida Panthers.

"Obviously, you want to play every night," said Jeffrey, a 2007 sixth-round pick of the club who turns 25 next week. "So it's an opportunity tonight, if I have a good game hopefully I can stay in the lineup. You want to play every night you don't like sitting out [13] out of [17] games [so far this season]."

Jeffrey likely will replace Joe Vitale as the center on the line with Glass and Adams. His game differs slightly from that of Vitale, who is smaller and quicker but doesn't possess the skill package the 6-1, 205-pound Jeffrey does.

Jeffrey had two 40-goal seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and once scored 24 goals for the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He had seven goals and 12 points in 25 games for Pittsburgh in 2010-11 before a knee injury ended that season and wrecked much of the following one.

Jeffrey does not yet have a point in four games this season.

"Dustin [is] different than Joe Vitae, that's for sure," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Joe a little more of an energy guy, a physical guy who's real good on faceoffs. Dustin is decent on faceoffs and is more of a smart, opportunistic player with a high IQ with the puck. He makes plays with the puck whether he plays on a fourth-line role or four-on-four. He's a guy who adds more offense -- and is a defensively responsible guy as well."

Jeffrey is viewed as a candidate to fill the highly-coveted spot as Evgeni Malkin's left winger on Pittsburgh's No. 2 line with James Neal, taking a few shifts with them earlier this season.

Before that's a realistic possibility, though, Jeffrey likely will have to prove his worth on the fourth line first.

"He works hard and understands what it takes to have successful fourth line," Glass said.

Added Jeffrey: "I just have to make sure I play my game and not try to change it to fill whatever role people think. … We want to be gritty but we want to have puck possession, we want to keep teams heading in their own zone. When we're not playing in our own zone, we're wearing that other team down. Some of it's being physical, but you have to be able to hold onto the puck and you have to be able to get pucks into their zone and create when you're in there as well. Obviously, yeah, it's tough filling in on the fourth line, if you're looking for a physical [player]; what I bring to the table is a little bit different than what Joe brings to the table."

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