Jeffrey's road well traveled
Dustin Jeffrey wasn't even born when Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson recorded their 1985 hit "Highwayman."
But Jeffrey couldn't be blamed if he feels like the song is the story of his life.
Jeffrey has been introduced to every Pennsylvania highway during the past six weeks, a ping pong ball between Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh. No matter where he plays, the quiet forward way has been productive.
"Dustin Jeffrey is a good hockey player," said defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who has played in his share of games in Wilkes-Barre. "He's definitely an NHL player."
But for how long• That always seems to be the question.
Injuries to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal have forced the Penguins to rely heavily on Jeffrey, a 22-year-old center. He has not looked out of place.
In six games, he has scored two goals and is a plus-3. Since Dec. 10, he has been recalled four times from Wilkes-Barre. He has been sent back on three occasions, and when Crosby and Malkin get healthy, Jeffrey likely will return to the AHL again. But he does not get discouraged.
"There are 16 forwards here, and I'm the only one with a two-way contract," he said. "Hopefully I can just make a good enough impression this year."
Jeffrey said he doesn't mind the back and forth and has become something of an expert, last-second traveler.
"I have a couple of shirts and a couple of suits that are always ready to go," he said with a smile.
Coach Dan Bylsma appears to be pleased with Jeffrey's work and suggested that positive performances this season could lead to an expanded future role.
"I look at last year's Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy," Bylsma said. "They got 10 hockey games (in the NHL) and showed that they could play in this league."
Bylsma said he likes Jeffrey's speed and ability to win draws. The forward has been used to kill penalties and on the power play, and Bylsma likes multifaceted players.
"My versatility helps," he said. "My first call-up, I was playing on the PK. This time I'm playing on the power play. It's tough getting big minutes here. You just have to try to make the most of it."
Of course, minutes are far easier to come by with Crosby and Malkin out of the lineup. The Penguins' stars figure to miss at least one more game, Tuesday against the Islanders. For Jeffrey, it marks another chance to prove his worth.
"It's a tough situation for him," Lovejoy said. "You're back and forth, you think you're getting a night off, and then you're in Pittsburgh."
Lovejoy hopes the hard work, and all those hours on the highway, pay off.
"Like me, Deryk, Mark (Letestu) and Chris Conner have learned," Lovejoy said, "you wait your turn and do the right thing in Wilkes-Barre. Hopefully sooner rather than later he'll be a regular here."
Center Dustin Jeffrey has been back and forth between Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh for the past six weeks. Here is a look at his journey:
Dec. 10: Jeffrey is recalled to the Penguins
Dec. 16: Jeffrey returns to Wilkes-Barre
Dec. 23: Jeffrey is recalled
Dec. 26: Jeffrey returns to Wilkes-Barre
Jan. 9: Jeffrey is recalled
Jan. 11: Jeffrey returns to Wilkes-Barre
Jan. 15: Jeffrey is recalled