Jayson Megna earned his October 24 call-up to the NHL by demonstrating a scorer’s touch, notching five points (3G, 2A) in six games with the AHL Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. The fact that he scored three of those points on the penalty kill and was a plus-eight on the season likely didn’t hurt, either.
With forward spots available due to long-term injuries to James Neal, Beau Bennett and Chuck Kobasew, Megna said the Penguins’ coaching staff liked his “compete [level], the way I skate. I think I can create turnovers on defense and create some offense off the rush.”
In Wilkes-Barre, Megna said, he was playing “probably a top-six role. Playing a lot of penalty kill, which is a role I embrace; I think it’s a huge aspect of the game. I think this year I was looked upon to be a point producer; I don’t think that’s going to be my role down here by any means, but I’ll try to fill in and help the team win any way I can.”
Since joining the parent-club Penguins, however, the 23-year-old winger has earned increasingly more ice time, trust and the opportunity to play with some of the biggest names in the sport. He’s continued his nearly point-per-game pace, with three (2G, 1A) in five contests and a team-leading 20 percent shooting percentage. He’s averaging 15.4 shifts and 11:28 of ice time per game, with much of that on the wing of star center Evgeni Malkin.
“[Malkin and Sidney Crosby] are players who make everyone around them better,” Megna said. “It’s obviously great to be able to go out there with those guys and know that, if you get pucks in or around the net, you always have the chance to do something good.”
Megna is also willing to put his body in front of the net, and that’s exactly how he got his first NHL goal in just his second game. “Sid had a rebound shot and shot it right off my shin pad,” he said. “Not how I dreamed it up, but I’ll take them any way I can get them.”
“He played a good hockey game tonight and it was nice to see him get rewarded,” Crosby said. “He went to a tough area and got a bounce, and that was a big goal for us.”
“I think he was effective on most every shift he was out there with speed. He made some plays and really earned the opportunity to get more ice time, which he did throughout the game,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “He really was a factor; could’ve had a couple more in there, too, sprinkled in a couple shots and rebounds around the crease.
“He gets an opportunity with Crosby and [Chris] Kunitz at a big point in the game, a great shift in the offensive zone and goes to the net. I think he’ll remember [the goal as] top-shelf a couple years from now, but he’ll definitely remember it was from Crosby.”
“I thought I came out with a little more confidence, as opposed to my first game,” Megna added. “I was feeling good out there, thought I skated well. Fortunately enough, I got my first assist and my first goal and, most importantly, the team got the win.”
That 3-1 victory at Carolina helped end a three-game losing streak for the Penguins, their worst regular-season slump since 2011-12. It was the start of what is now a four-game winning streak for Pittsburgh over the Hurricanes, Boston Bruins, and two in a home-and-home series with the Columbus Blue Jackets. And Megna has provided a spark.
One of only a handful of Florida natives to play in the NHL, Megna was born in Fort Lauderdale but grew up playing in Northbrook, Illinois. He spent two years in the USHL with the Cedar Rapids Roughriders, then went on to play at the University of Nebraska at Omaha with his younger brother, Jaycob, who was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2012. After his freshman year, the undrafted Jayson impressed the Penguins at a July 2012 development camp and was signed to a two-way deal. He’s impressed the organization at the AHL level ever since, and is now doing the same on the NHL stage.
“I feel a little more comfortable and confident every day that I’m here,” Megna said, adding that the biggest adjustments have been “positioning, attention to detail and just being confident to make the right play. I think you have even a little more time here to execute with a lot of precision with how good the guys are, their stick detail and their positioning, in the defensive zone especially.”
There are no guarantees for how long Megna will stick with the big club, especially as some of the team’s regulars get healthy – Bennett, for one, is expected to return to practice this week. In the meantime, however, he’s making the most of his opportunity.
“I’m going to have a lot of fun with it, soak it all in,” Megna said. “I want to help contribute and help the team win games.”