In signing Wednesday with the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League, Jayson Megna was reminded of an important life lesson: Making life-altering decisions is never easy.
When Nebraska Omaha’s 2011-12 campaign came to an end in the first round of the WCHA playoffs at St. Cloud State, Megna planned to remain with the Mavericks heading into what would have been his sophomore season.
Even after he participated in the Penguins’ development camp last month, he was still set to return to Omaha for another year as a Maverick.
That plan was turned on its head, however, when Megna spoke with the NHL organization’s top brass, and Wednesday he signed a two-way entry-level deal with the club.
“I went to their development camp, and the big thing for me was feeling comfortable and then feeling very wanted,” Megna said Thursday in a phone interview from Wilkes-Barre, Penn..
“At the Penguins’ development camp, I sat down with (Pittsburgh head coach Dan) Bylsma and I sat down with (Penguins general manager) Ray Shero individually and had probably 45-minute meetings with both of them, and they just expressed that they thought I was ready to leave school and play pro hockey and that I had a chance to make their team out of main camp, and that going back to school developmentally, for me, might not be the best idea.
“I kind of thought that, with the coaches that they have (in the Penguins’ organization) and that if they really want me, then they’ll make sure I succeed.”
In the end, the 22-year-old only spent one season at UNO, but it was there that he thrived and put himself in professional hockey’s shop window. He put together 13 goals and 18 assists for 31 points in 28 games in 2011-12 with a team-leading plus-13 rating, good enough to land the forward from Northbrook, Ill. onto the All-WCHA Rookie Team.
He put in one of the most promising freshman campaigns that UNO’s hockey program has ever seen, and Megna used it as his springboard to jump up into the professional ranks and continue his development as a hockey player at a higher level.
“I didn’t even think about (the money being offered). Not even once,” Megna said. “The thing for me is that I’m 22 years old, and even though that’s still considered a young pro, at this age, I’m most concerned about my development and getting better every day.
“I think that any young hockey player can attest to that, and I just felt that, with playing against pros for a year as opposed to playing against college kids for a year, my development will just go through the roof.”
If Megna makes it onto Pittsburgh’s roster following the club’s main preseason camp, which starts Sept. 21, he will be paid an annual salary equating to $925,000. If he is sent down to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Pittsburgh’s minor league affiliate in the American Hockey League, he will earn no more than $70,000 per year in his time there.
No matter where his career takes him, though, Megna wished to make it known that his decision to leave UNO – a program that includes in its ranks Jayson’s younger brother Jaycob – was a difficult one to make.
“Contrary to what some people are saying, it was not an easy decision for me to leave school,” Jayson said. “I had an opportunity to leave right when the season ended, and I elected to stay.
A big part of that was my brother, and a big part of that was the rest of my teammates. I really enjoyed my time in Omaha, but I just tried to do in the end what I thought was best for me and my career.
“Jaycob will obviously always be my brother, and I love him. We’re very close, and if I had the same chance to be on the same team with him, I’d much rather do that than play against him because he seems to have my number and my playing style down. He’s a great player, and it’d be a great thing to be able to play with him again in the future.”
It’s been a rough offseason so far for UNO. The eldest Megna and Terry Broadhurst, two of the Mavericks’ top scorers last season, have left UNO before exhausting their eligibility, and assistant coaches Mike Hastings and Brian Renfrew have also moved on.
Megna said he expects UNO to succeed without them, though, on the back of the team’s remaining leaders and improved performances from other players.
“I think that the program still has a very solid core, as far as the players. They have great leadership in Brent Gwidt and Matt White, and Andrej Sustr has got to step up this year and be a leader,” Megna said. They have a bunch of guys in there that are going to bring great things.”
He continued: “They’re working hard, they know what it takes, they’ve got great leadership, and I think the guys will come together.
“The freshman class has been great so far, and they’ve been getting knit tight already with the group, so I expect nothing but success for them this year. I think they’re going to be a very good team, and I’ll obviously be rooting for them.”
As for Megna’s newest pursuit, though his professional career will begin with training sessions in Wilkes-Barre, he doesn’t plan to stay there too long.
“I’m going to do my best to get back to Pittsburgh as soon as possible, but (starting with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world,” Megna said. “A lot of great players have played a year or two in the AHL to develop their game and get into the system, but obviously I’m going to try and be in Wilkes-Barre the least amount of time that I can.
“My dream is to play in the NHL, and that’s what I’m going to try and do.”