AHL Pens - Return of Dustin Jeffrey by @jfoo1654

Jeffrey during his rookie season.

When the news broke right around the 3pm NHL trade deadline that the Pittsburgh Penguins had traded Matia Marcantuoni for ex-Penguin draft pick Dustin Jeffrey, fans all across northeast PA were rejoicing over memories of Jeffrey's first stint with the organization. During his time with WBS/Pittsburgh, which covered parts of six seasons, "DJ" had established himself as one of the best players in the AHL franchise's history. Perhaps most importantly, Jeffrey and fellow rookie Luca Caputi came straight out of Major Juniors and into a Calder Cup Playoff lineup. They would both play important roles on that team, which was Wilkes-Barre's last trip to the Calder Cup finals. The now married 28-year-old and his wife recently welcomed their first child into the world, ironically in the place where Dustin's very own professional career began eight years ago this spring. Many things have changed since he last played in WBS, but one thing remains the same. Dustin Jeffrey and his new teammates are playing with one goal in mind - to bring the city that long-awaited championship, and make up for the one that slipped away eight years ago.

Jeffrey/Caputi during '08 Playoffs

Heading into the 2008 Calder Cup Playoffs, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were the East Division Regular Season Champs, and the number 1 seed in the four team East Division Playoff Bracket. The winner of the Divisional Bracket would advance to play in the Eastern Conference Final. Presumably they would have been the favorite to advance out of the Division, even without any talent being added to the roster. Luckily for Penguins fans, the team was planning on adding two recent draft picks whose junior season had just come to an end. Dustin Jeffrey ( 6th Rd pick, 171st overall in '07 ) and Luca Caputi ( 4th Rd pick, 111th overall in '07 ) were both coming off of monster seasons in Major Junior and were signed to ATO's to potentially help the AHL squad in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Head Coach Todd Richards made no mistake that the two would compete for playing time, as long as it would help the team.

And help the team they did. Caputi would make the more immediate impact, and contributed in a more offensive role, as he recorded 4 goals, 4 assists for 8 points in 19 games during the playoff march. Jeffrey, on the other hand, would break into the lineup by way of a story that made national sports headlines. WBS Captain Nathan Smith found himself suspended for one game after being arrested for streaking (yes, you read that correctly) after a night of celebrating a first round victory over the rival Hershey Bears. Todd Richards said that Jeffrey's game was similar to Smith's in that he was a two-way player who could win draws and kill penalties, and so he slotted him onto a line with speedy scorer Connor James, and fellow rookie Nick Johnson. They didn't make it onto the score sheet, but DJ left his imprint on the game by creating a few good shorthanded chances and he provided quite a bit of energy, throwing his body around recklessly. His effort and defensive mindset kept him in the Penguins lineup even after the return of Nathan Smith, and he would end up playing 15 games in which he scored 2 goals while adding an assist for 3 points in his first professional postseason.

That team displayed an unbelievable amount of poise late in games. You can check out Tim Brent winning the Eastern Conference Finals by scoring a goal with 13 seconds to go. They ran out of late game heroics and fell just short of a title, losing to the Chicago Wolves in six gut-wrenching games.

Jeffrey/Timonen
Over the course of the next five seasons, Jeffrey would cement his legacy in Wilkes-Barre by scoring 58 goals, adding 110 assists, giving him a total of 166 points in 186 games. That put him fourth on the team's all-time scoring list, second in assists, and he is the current all time leader in shorthanded goals.

He would have some success in Pittsburgh, especially in the '10-'11 season when he had 12 points in 25 games, before tearing his ACL when Jeff Carter of the Flyers landed on his knee during an exchange along the boards. During that season, DJ was displaying the ability to produce on the score sheet. He was killing penalties with great success, proving that he could indeed excel in the NHL. After rehabbing his knee, he just wasn't able to duplicate the success he was having during that season and bounced around between the NHL and AHL.

On November 17, 2013, Dustin Jeffrey was claimed while on waivers by the Dallas Stars, presumably ending his career as a Penguin. His time in Dallas didn't go as he would have liked. Eventually he was sent down to the Texas Stars of the AHL where he would help the Stars claim their very first Calder Cup. He had a very productive postseason with the AHL Stars, scoring 12 points in 19 games. Championship experience is valued greatly throughout the professional hockey world, and Jeffrey's name will reside on the Calder Cup forever.

Jeffrey during Calder Cup Run in Texas
Fast forward to the 2016 NHL trade deadline. Jeffrey was playing in Springfield for the AHL affiliate of the Arizona Coyotes and leading them in scoring. He was also sitting inside the top 10 of the entire league. Matthias Plachta, a teammate from Springfield who was traded to Wilkes-Barre early in the day, was receiving some advice from Jeffrey about his new team when he got a text from DJ saying that he would be joining him. He was indeed traded to Pittsburgh along with two ECHL players for Matia Marcantuoni, a speedy young winger who just hadn't been able to crack the WBS lineup. The now 28-year-old center was immediately assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and his career had officially come full circle.

It is no accident that Jeffrey was brought in just in time for the playoff push.Wilkes-Barre was hoping that his playoff success while he was gone would help him guide the Pens back to the Calder Cup Final for the first time since DJ's rookie year in '08. The WBS roster remains gutted by injury and call-ups, but they are still in the hunt for the Atlantic Division Title. Barring a complete collapse,  they will play postseason hockey for the 14th straight season.

Dustin has played 14 games with his new (old) team, and has played point-per-game hockey with 6 goals and 8 assists. Playing on the team's top line, top PK pairing, and top PP unit, it must feel just like old times for DJ. There is no doubt that Dustin Jeffrey is one of the greatest WBS Penguins of all-time. If he is able to help this year's team capture that elusive Calder Cup, he will become a WBS legend and as we know from Babe Ruth in the classic film The Sandlot, " legends never die."

It's funny how the hockey world works. It's icing on the cake to have him back, but his contract is up at the end of the season and this may be the last few times we see him wear a WBS sweater. If that is the case, then I urge all of the fans in northeast PA to enjoy him while he is here. As we have seen before with Dustin, sometimes you don't realize how good a player is until he is gone. Don't allow Jeffrey's greatness at the AHL level to go unnoticed anymore. Give him the credit he so deserves and by all means, enjoy it while it lasts. Calder Cup or not, Dustin Jeffrey will one day be in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Hall of Fame, and rightfully so.

Thank everyone for reading! Feel free to comment or check me out on twitter @jfoo1654.
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