Penguins prospects Payerl, Megna emerge as candidates at forward
The forwards at Penguins prospect camp, by all accounts, do not boast the blue-chip talent that illuminates from the organization's blue-line standouts.
But those forwards have something the defensemen don't — an immediate opportunity.
The departure of numerous free-agent forwards at the NHL level this summer has left the door open for dark horse candidates to emerge from within the organization. Two of them, Adam Payerl and Jayson Megna, clearly have made strides.
“Yes,” Megna said politely but confidently when asked if he believes he is trending upward in the Penguins organization.
“All I can do is focus on my game and focus on the positives in my game.”
There clearly are positives in his game. In fact, during the Penguins' abbreviated, five-day training camp last season, Megna emerged as a favorite of coach Dan Bylsma.
Megna started the season slowly at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but by the end of the season had emerged as a strong forward.
“Two years ago,” player development coach Bill Guerin said, “Jayson Megna was playing in the USHL. You don't figure it out overnight. It's definitely a process.”
The Penguins love Megna's speed and desire. He doesn't project as a top-six NHL forward, but the organization believes he could become an effective bottom-six performer.
“He's very competitive,” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach John Hynes said. “That's the first thing that draws you to him. And you have to like his speed, too.”
The Penguins have liked everything about Payerl this week.
Payerl is a power forward, and there is a shortage of those within the organization.
Eric Tangradi, who the Penguins believed at one point could be a useful power forward for many seasons, never panned out and plays in Winnipeg. Another power forward prospect, Keven Veilleux, never justified being a second-round draft pick.
“Adam Payerl is just one of those guys who has really stood out,” Guerin said.
Although Payerl doesn't possess the pedigree of an impact NHL player — he was never drafted, failed to crack the 20-goal mark in five OHL seasons with Barrie and Belleville and scored just three goals in 44 games last season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) — the brute force in his game has grasped the Penguins' attention.
“I think the way that he played in the playoffs is something we could use,” said Guerin, referring to Payerl's performance with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last spring.
“He has size, and the way he skates with that size is impressive.”
Hynes, Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald and Guerin were asked this week if a forward had surprised them during prospect camp. Payerl's name was the first that each of them mentioned.
“He'd be a great guy to have as the first guy on the forecheck,” Guerin said. “From the beginning of last year to the beginning of this year, he's made the biggest strides.”