Pittsburgh Penguins forward Dustin Jeffrey was already under the gun heading into 2013-2014 season. He has underachieved when given opportunities like playing on Evgeni Malkin's line or answering the bell when a top tier guy goes down. In nearly six seasons with the Pens, Dustin Jeffrey has not found his niche. Now with better options coming from surprising places, the trigger of that overhanging gun is being squeezed.
Jeffrey entered the campaign as a bottom six forward, which is not where he’s shown he can play but where the Pens just stick him. In nine games this year, Jeffrey has mustered a single assist and sports a goose egg for a plus/minus. You cannot even argue that playing with Tanner Glass, Craig Adams, or Joe Vitale will hurt his production. Each of those guys has at least four points and a higher than plus-1 rating. Craig Adams has three goals. That’s right, Craig Adams is outscoring Dustin Jeffrey. Heck, in most games this year the third or fourth line has looked better than the top two.
If that does not unsettle Jeffrey some, maybe the two guys breathing down his back will.
Injuries to James Neal, Chuck Kobasew, and Beau Bennett have forced the Penguins to get clever with substitutes. Example being moving Deryk Engelland to winger (why not? He’d be a regular healthy scratch anyway). Not only has Engelland played well in the role, he’s providing fringe benefits the coaching staff never thought he would. Aside from being a physical presence, Engelland as discovered a nose for the net. Each of the two goals he’s scored as come from being around or crashing the net. A big man in front of the opposing goalie is something the Penguins have been searching for since Ryan Malone left. It’s not crazy to think that the Penguins will not keep using Engelland at forward even when the injured guys come back.
And then there’s Jayson Megna.
Since being called up from the AHL, Megna has done a outstanding job filling in for Beau Bennett. He is also doing a unreal job of filling in for James Neal. In five games, Megna has three points (two goals and a assist) and seems to have reenergized Evgeni Malkin. Geno has been zipping all over the ice and Megna’s speed is allowing him to keep up. Neal’s spot on the second unit is secure, but Jussi Jokinen and Beau Bennett might find themselves on the third unit if the Florida native keeps trending up. Way up . . .
All this spells disaster for Dustin Jeffrey. When the Penguins are fully healthy, he can expect to be benched almost every game. The waiver wire might also being calling his name because there’s no real trading market for him. This was a make or break year for Jeffrey and it looks like the latter is happening. But it’s not like the Penguins didn’t try to make it work.
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