Angelo Esposito might have gathered all of the press when he fell into the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ laps during the first round of the 2007 entry draft, but it has been sixth-round selection Dustin Jeffrey who has burst onto the scene and gathered much of the early attention among the Penguins’ top prospects this season.
Despite scoring 34 goals and registering 92 points in 68 games for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, Jeffrey was selected with the 171st selection this past June. During the rookie tournament which the Penguins won in Kitchener, Jeffrey tied for the team lead with three goals, and added two assists. That performance earned Jeffrey an invitation to the big camp, where he appeared in two exhibition contests, recording an assist against the Canadiens on September 18th, and stayed until the next-to-last round of cuts.
Upon returning to the Greyhounds, Jeffrey has quickly established himself as one of the top performers in the OHL. His seven goals and 13 assists in only nine games puts him fifth in the league scoring race. As a team, the Greyhounds are undefeated in regulation at 11-0-1, good for first place in the West Division.
Jeffrey was especially dominant during the week of Oct.1-7. He won OHL Player of the Week honors after recording three goals and six assists in three games. A couple of days later, on Oct. 9, Jeffrey signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Jeffrey recently spoke to Hockey’s Future about training camp, his hot start, and signing his first professional contract.
HF: Early on you have had some great success. What do you attribute your early season point production to?
DJ: I think that I had a really good off-season training. I had my goal in mind that I wanted to do and to be ready for my NHL camp. After I got back it has just continued over until now and I just think that I had a really good summer and was prepared for the start of the season.
HF: You attended Penguins’ training camp and actually stayed a few weeks there. Can you talk a little bit about training camp and how you did, what you were impressed by and maybe what it was like sharing ice with guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?
DJ: Oh, it was awesome. It started with the rookie training camp in Kitchener. I really didn’t know what to expect there. The first day was kind of a wakeup call because it was unbelievable; there were guys there from the AHL, and everybody was older, faster, and stronger so there was a real learning curve. I actually had a really good camp there. I think I tied for the lead in scoring for that tournament and then I got the invite to the main camp. I went there and it was just a real awakening just watching these guys day in and day out. The way they prepare for practices and for games is just something that I think is just going to help my career because I got to see what they do and I think that really helped.
HF: Last week you were named OHL Player of the Week. How did it feel to get a prestigious award such as that?
DJ: It feels very good. I think that it is a team thing as well. My line played really well that weekend and I think we had a six-point night in Ottawa. That’s not just an individual effort that is a team thing. I am really honored that I got it. I think that a couple of my line mates could have got it as well. It is a really good thing to get honored like that by the league and I think that it is a really good thing for us.
HF: What does it feel like to wake up in the morning and look at the top of the OHL leader board and you see your name right there behind John Tavares, who a lot of people call the next Sidney Crosby.
DJ: It’s good; I’m having a really good start and I know it’s only eight games into the year so I’m not going to take it to heart too much right now. It’s nice to see and it’s a good thing for my confidence and my confidence hasn’t been higher than it is right now. We are going to try to keep it going right now.
HF: Last week you got to sign your first NHL entry-level contract. Does it take any pressure off of you knowing that you are signed for the next three years with the Pittsburgh Penguins?
DJ: I think that it does for sure. I think that it is something that I don’t have to worry about for now, it’s not going to be in the back of my mind, trying to play for a contract. I think that getting it out of the way right now and obviously I was ecstatic when I found out that they wanted to sign me. I think that is something that every kid dreams of getting that next step and I think that is the next step for me. I just have to play this season and see what they want to do at the end of the year.
HF: Last year Kris Letang started the year in Pittsburgh and was then returned to his team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, then returned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the playoff run. Have you talked to Penguins’ management about such a scenario playing out for you later in the season?
DJ: Yeah, I think that it is a possibility but we are having a really good run right now so we are worried about our playoffs but the time will come after that. It depends how they do in the playoffs and where they are standing as well. I think that it is always an option and I think that the way they sounded it seemed like something like that could happen but it all depends on how our team does in the playoffs.
HF: Do you get a chance at all to follow the Penguins either on television or by way of the Internet?
DJ: Yeah, I think that I have watched the last two or three games. I watched the one last night against New Jersey and I think I watched the one right before that so I have been keeping tabs and just seeing how they are doing. I actually know some of the guys right now after practicing with them and stuff so it is different watching guys that you have had conversations with and were around for three or four weeks.
HF: In saying that, do you keep in contact with any of the guys from camp? Do you have any cell phone numbers or anything?
DJ: I talk with a couple of the guys in the AHL, especially a guy that I played with here in Tyler Kennedy, who’s had a really good start as well. I have been talking to him a little bit here and there; there are a couple of other guys that I talk to on the Internet but nobody from the big club.
HF: You are listed as a center. Have you been playing mostly center or have they had you working out on the wing at all?
DJ: I have just been playing center.
HF: Have the Penguins talked to you about any potential moves to wing? This organization is very strong down the middle but really lacking depth along the wings. Has anybody in upper management ever talked to you about this?
DJ: They asked me and I played wing during their camp. I played center and wing during both camp and in the two exhibition games that I played in. It is something that I am comfortable with as I can play the left wing as well. If that is something that they need me to do then I can move to there but they haven’t really said anything right now.
HF: Can you talk about some of the strengths that you have as a player and maybe some of the things that you need to work on to get to that next level?
DJ: I think my strengths are my vision, my passing, as I am a pretty good set-up man. I think that the big thing is that I don’t give a lot up defensively. I can create offensively and still not give up a lot defensively. That is something that a lot of teams are looking for, a two-way forward. The things that I need to work on are just the things that I was told to work on like getting stronger and getting faster. A 19-year-old kid going up and playing against guys that are 25, 30, 35, they are a lot stronger, faster and more mature. I think that is the thing that every kid that is trying to make the next step has to work on, their strength and their conditioning.
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