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Jeffrey Continues Quest for NHL

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Forward Dustin Jeffrey had a unique experience of the Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup championship. Even though he didn’t play in any postseason games, Jeffrey was a part of the team’s taxi squad, known affectionately as the Black Aces, and was a close-up witness to the title run.

“I got a lot out of it, being around, day-to-day, going on the ice with the Cup and being a part of the whole celebration,” Jeffrey said. “But seeing the guys and what it takes day in and day out in the Stanley Cup Final, that’s something you can’t talk about. You have to witness it and see what the guys are going through. It’s something that I’ll remember forever.”

Maybe having that unique experience a few National Hockey League games under his belt is why Jeffrey was chosen by the Penguins organization to be one of two players – Nick Johnson being the other – to address all the team’s prospects prior to kicking off the week-long conditioning camp.

“We spoke to the rookies and told them about our first experiences as a pro,” Jeffrey said.
“I spoke about coming from the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) and the difference between coming from the OHL and turning pro and what it takes.

“I think it’s a lot mental. The season is a lot longer. You have to be ready everyday because people are coming up and getting sent down. You don’t have a secure job. I witnessed that this year. You take two or three games off and you’ll be out of the lineup. That’s what I was trying to get across. In junior hockey you can take a few days off. As soon as you turn pro it doesn’t mean that you’re playing every night. You can be anywhere from the NHL to the ECHL (East Coast Hockey League). Guys have to realize that when they come into camp.”

But seeing the guys and what it takes day in and day out in the Stanley Cup Final, that’s something you can’t talk about. You have to witness it and see what the guys are going through. It’s something that I’ll remember forever. - Dustin Jeffrey
Jeffrey knows what it’s like fighting your way into the NHL. Jeffrey, a sixth-round pick (171st overall) in the 2007 draft, worked his way through the Penguins’ system and made his NHL debut last season, playing in 14 contests and recording one goal and three points.

“My first game,” Jeffrey said, “I was playing in New Jersey, taking faceoffs against guys like (Bobby) Holik and (John) Madden, guys I’ve watched play for the last 10, 15 years in the NHL. To play against those guys in a real game is a totally different atmosphere, a totally different feel. I tried to warn (the prospects) about that but after you get through the first (game) you calm down a little bit and it gets easier.”

Jeffrey spent the majority of the last season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. He totaled 37 points on 11 goals and 26 assists in 63 games. Jeffrey finished second on the team in scoring during the postseason with 10 points (5G, 5A) in 12 games. He was a valuable asset to the Baby Penguins.

“Clearly his strength is his hockey sense, his reads, his understanding of the game at a National Hockey League level,” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Todd Reirden said. “He has a special gift in that regard.”

Jeffrey hasn’t had much time to rest this past season. After Wilkes-Barre’s playoff run ended, the 21-year old joined the Penguins for their Stanley Cup quest, which lasted until mid-June. But the lengthy season has kept him in shape and should help him compete for a job in the NHL.

“It’s been a short summer,” Jeffrey joked. “Having three weeks to prepare for this camp and then six weeks for main camp, I’m preparing for main camp. My goal is to be ready for main camp and challenge for a roster spot. You want to put your best foot forward. Going into main camp, that’s when you really want to peek. That’s what I’m ready for.”

Jeffrey has taken major steps towards becoming an NHL player. And Reirden believes that with Jeffrey’s development, he has a legitimate shot at cracking the Penguins’ lineup out of training camp.

“The one thing that differentiates Dustin, for me, is his ability to understand the importance of the defensive side of the puck which will really helps his chances to stay around this year,” Reirden said. “As a fourth-line guy, that’s your responsibility. He also has an ability to kill penalties and does a nice job on faceoffs. I think those are his strengths that separate him from the rest of the prospects at this point.”
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