It’s been a whirlwind year for Dustin Jeffrey
The journey started a year ago in Pittsburgh and saw him battle for a roster spot in Penguins training camp; dominate in the OHL and contribute for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the Calder Cup playoffs.
The long adventure came to a close as Chicago beat the Penguins in the Calder Cup Finals. However, Pittsburgh’s sixth round draft choice last year learned many valuable lessons along the way.
“It’s probably been one of the busiest seasons of my life and probably the most fun I have ever had. I started off here and made it to the main camp in Pittsburgh and played in a couple exhibition games – that was probably one of the highlights of my career so far,” he said. “Going back to junior, I knew what I had to work on. They told me what I needed to improve on to make the jump. We had a really successful year. We ended up losing to Kitchener in the OHL semifinals and they are a really good team and they ended up winning our league.
“Then, I made the jump to Wilkes-Barre and the guys there made the biggest difference for me. They took us right in and put us under their wing. I kind of got thrown into the fire, so to speak, going right into games. I think I had two practices and then went right into games,” he continued. “The biggest help for me was the coaching staff. Dan Bylsma helped me out a lot and Todd Richards was an amazing guy just to talk to and get feedback from. The guys really helped me out. They helped me on the ice and off the ice – just everything in general. Living out of a hotel for six weeks is a little different. So, being able to go over their apartments for dinner; it was nice. The whole experience for me in the last eight months has been unbelievable and it’s something I have been really trying to cherish and let it sink it. A lot of the guys were telling me that you don’t get the chance too often to make it to the Calder Cup Finals and that’s something I really try to appreciate and I still don’t think I have the full appreciation for it.”
Jeffrey turned heads in Pittsburgh last fall. He helped lead the team’s prospects to a win at the Kitchener Rookie Tournament in Ontario by pacing the team in scoring. That earned him an invitation to the Penguins’ main training camp. It was an experience Jeffrey savored.
“They told me right off the bat they weren’t planning on taking anyone from the rookie tournament in Kitchener and we ended up having a good run there and we won that tournament. Personally, I had some success there and they told me I earned a spot here for training camp and there was no way they could send me down,” he said. “As I was here, I just tried to go day by day; I didn’t know when I was going to go back, so I just had to approach it that way and it ended up going really well. Getting those experiences, especially playing exhibition games in Montreal and in Detroit, it was something I will never forget.”
When Jeffrey was returned to his junior team, the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL, he was not upset. Rather, he used the season to send a message.
“I think that I was trying to put a point across during the season. I thought that I could be a top-level player in the OHL and, having the experience I had here and having the talks I had with the coaching staff and scouts here and [Penguins Director of Player Development] Tom Fitzgerald, they gave me that confidence, but they also told me I had to push myself,” he said. “So, I wasn’t going to go back and just go through the motions in the OHL. I really tried to make a statement. I was hopefully trying to prove that that’d be my last year in junior hockey. I am still eligible to go back for one year, but the point I was trying to make was that it’d hopefully be my last year and I’ll be able to make the jump to Wilkes-Barre.”
Jeffrey, a 6-1, 205-pound center, tallied a team-best 97 points (38+59) in 56 games with the Greyhounds and finished ninth in the OHL scoring race. He earned a spot with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the Calder Cup playoffs – another valuable learning experience.
“When you go into games and situations like that, especially in the playoffs, you’re playing in the most-intense times. If I was able to have some success and I was able to keep up, so to speak, and be able to fit in, that gave me the confidence to believe if I had a good workout summer, I’d be able to play at that level,” he said. “But, I know there is still a lot of work to be done and I still have a lot to learn. I was only there for six or eight weeks and, obviously, that’s a huge step, but I still have a long way to go. So, I have to take this summer and be ready for next season.”
Jeffrey’s preparation for the upcoming season starts at the Penguins’ conditioning camp.
“This is the basically the start of my summer workouts. I was only home for about six or eight days after leaving Wilkes-Barre, so I am not in the best place I want to be, in terms of my conditioning, but this camp is the start to my summer workouts and I will just go from here and I will be ready for the mid-September tournament in Kitchener again.”