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McKegg trying to earn spot with Pens

by Jeff Carpenter @penguins / Pittsburgh Penguins

In the NHL, July 1 is usually filled with big signings from teams as general managers jump at the first chance to add valuable assets to their organization and gear up for next season. For every game-breaking free agent acquisition, there are also a bunch of smaller ones used to add depth to teams.

Greg McKegg was one of those deals for the Penguins that day, as they inked the 25-year-old to a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000. 

 "Their reputation speaks for itself," McKegg said. "The back-to-back Cups and the winning culture they have here, it's been a good experience so far and a learning process."

While the signing may not have made a big splash at the time, McKegg is certainly garnering attention now with his impressive performance at training camp.

While the competition for the third-line center role has been well documented - with a handful of viable candidates in Carter Rowney, Teddy Blueger, Adam Johnson, and Jay McClement in the mix for the position - McKegg is another worthwhile name under consideration.

He's played well so far in the preseason, skating in all three of Pittsburgh's exhibition games to this point. And not only did McKegg score a goal against Detroit on Wednesday - he's stood out with his speed, tenacity and faceoff ability.

McKegg's NHL experience can only help his chance, as the center has appeared in 65 games over parts of four seasons. Head coach Mike Sullivan has liked what he's seen so far from McKegg, who played the most out of any Penguins forward on Friday against Columbus, registering 21:46 minutes of ice time.

"We've seen a lot from him, he's been very impressive," Sullivan said. "One of the reasons his minutes climbed is because we're using him in a lot of situations. We've used him on power play, we've used him on the penalty kill, and we've put him with different people. He can skate, he's got a maturity to his game, and he has some NHL experience. We've really liked what we've seen at this point, but it's still the middle of training camp so we need to keep watching and we'll evaluate as we go."

McKegg's ability to bring a versatile game could be a big deciding factor in whether McKegg starts the season in Pittsburgh or in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The 6-foot, 192-pound pivot possesses good offensive instincts and standout speed. While he isn't the most physical, he doesn't shy away from contact either. He hopes to bring all of that to the Penguins this season.

"My overall game, I think the last few years I was just trying to round out my game. I know I can bring a speed factor and hopefully contribute any way I can," McKegg said.

McKegg was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third round (62nd overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft. While he mostly starred with the Marlies, Toronto's AHL affiliate, he did partake in four NHL games with the big club over two seasons.

The majority of his NHL experience came last year, as he skated in a combined 46 games with Florida and Tampa Bay. He ended up playing two games in Pittsburgh last season, one with the Panthers and one with the Lightning. The atmosphere in the arena has McKegg excited to have the chance to make playing at PPG Paints Arena a much more common occurrence.

"I remember the building being really loud and right on top of you," McKegg said. "It was a lot of fun to play. You knew right from the get-go it was going to be a great atmosphere and it definitely lived up to that."

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