Exactly one year ago today, Jayson Megna was suiting up as a member of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and preparing for a matchup with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
That was his first-ever game at the professional level.
Fast-forward one year later, and Megna is five games into his first NHL call-up and proving that he belongs at the highest level.
The 23-year-old Megna, one of three undrafted players on the Penguins current roster along with forwards Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, has taken advantage of the opportunity to skate with Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen over the past two weeks – recording two goals and an assist in five games.
“I'm playing with really good players and that is helping me out a lot,” Megna said. “They have created space for me and the coaches have been gracious enough to give me an opportunity to play with these guys. And I've tried to step up and contribute any way I can.”
After signing a two-year entry-level contract last summer after attending Penguins development camp as a free-agent invitee, Megna came into AHL training camp last season poised to make a difference and break into the NHL at some point during the season. However, a high-ankle sprain sidelined him early on until the Nov. 4 contest at Bridgeport.
Megna said the extra time at Wilkes-Barre after the injury might have been the best thing for the development of both his offensive and defensive game.
“The coaching staff at Wilkes-Barre was exceptional,” Megna said. “They were really helpful (in terms of) getting details and acclimating to Pittsburgh Penguins hockey and the systems. If you ask me where I would hope to be a year ago, I would have said here, but (it took) a lot of hard work and help from the coaching staff.”
The on-ice chemistry with Malkin and Jokinen has been evident since he joined them, and Megna said the elite skill level of his linemates has made playing his game that much easier.
“They are playmakers, some of the best in the world at what they do,” Megna said. “When you go to the front of the net good things happen and they are going to find you. First thing that goes through my mind is get out of (Malkin’s) way. Then put your stick down on the ice because he is probably going to find it. ”
With the anticipated return of forwards James Neal and Beau Bennett, Megna may end up shifting to a bottom-six role when the team is fully healthy. He said focusing on being more responsible defensively and making smart puck decisions are just a couple of things he can do to solidify his role at the professional level.
Regardless of his future linemates or role on this Penguins team, the numbers don’t lie. Jayson Megna has been a difference-maker.
“I've been dreaming about this for a long time and I’m just fortunate enough to get the opportunity,” he said.