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Healthy, Jeffrey hoping for an opportunity with Penguins

| Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, 10:48 p.m.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Pittsburgh Penguins' Dustin Jeffrey approaches the goal during a shootout against the New York Rangers in an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011, in New York. Jeffrey scored one of Pittsburgh's three second-period goals and then had the only one in a seven-round shootout to lift the injury-depleted Penguins to a 4-3 victory. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

There aren't many available spots in the Penguins' lineup, but Dustin Jeffrey will happily take one.

Jeffrey, who saw portions of the past two seasons destroyed by a torn ACL that hindered him for 18 months, is finally healthy.

He's also ready to make an impact.

“When I came back last year,” Jeffrey said, “I wasn't 100 percent. Then, I had a couple of bad games, and that was it. I was a scratch.”

Jeffrey intends on turning things around this season. Precedent suggests he has an opportunity to become a reasonable NHL contributor.

During the 2010-11 season, the Penguins lost centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to season-ending injuries. This opened the door for Jeffrey, a natural center. He responded by scoring seven goals in 25 games, including a memorable overtime-winner in Boston.

Then, Jeffrey tore his ACL in Philadelphia.

“It took awhile to get it all back,” he said. “I wasn't the same for a long time.”

His decision to play in Europe during the NHL lockout has greatly altered his outlook on this season with the Penguins.

Playing in Austria, Jeffrey put up 11 goals and 23 points in 20 games with Zagreb Medvescak. The competition wasn't strong, but Jeffrey needed the work.

“It was a smart career choice,” he said. “I needed to get my confidence back. That was the big thing for me. I was able to test my knee. The league isn't what it is here, but to play in-game competition was huge for me.”

Jeffrey can play center and wing. Given that Crosby, Malkin and Brandon Sutter are penciled in as the top three centers — and Joe Vitale or Craig Adams figure to start as the fourth line center — Jeffrey will probably be used at wing.

“Doesn't matter to me,” he said. “I just want to play.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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