In the past year, the name and game of UNO defenseman Andrej Sustr, an undrafted free agent, have been among the hottest topics of NHL scouts and general managers.
So consider the question the Anaheim Ducks had for Maverick coach Dean Blais last winter, concerning fellow defenseman Jaycob Megna.
“After watching Jaycob and Andrej, they called and wanted to know which one was better,” Blais said. “I said, 'Well, you have a chance to draft Jaycob.'
“The fact is, there was a decision that they were trying to make. Andrej will play in the NHL. And Jaycob, with continued improvement, will have a chance in two more years.”
Anaheim selected Megna, draft-eligible again last season after his freshman year, in the seventh round in June.
Sustr is no longer eligible for the draft, but will consider his options once his junior season ends.
Meanwhile the 6-foot-7, 210-pound Megna, from Northbrook, Ill., continues progressing quite nicely for a Mav defensive corps that is considered one of the best in the country.
“At times he's been our best defenseman,” said Blais of Megna, who is usually paired with the 6-8 Sustr to form UNO's version of the Twin Towers. “He's steady. He's scored a big goal (in a win over Minnesota). But he's been so solid on the penalty kill and moving the puck out of the zone.”
Megna, who had two goals and three assists last year while recording a minus-1 rating for a sub-.500 team, has a goal and three assists this year while recording a plus-12 for the 13-9-2 Mavs, who share the lead in the WCHA.
“I'm more comfortable this year,” Megna said. “I'm not worried as much about being in the lineup or making mistakes as a freshman. You know what to expect every day at the rink and you just focus on getting better.”
His freshman year was more than enough to get professional scouts interested.
“It was an exciting time,” Megna said. “It was a little bit of validation for the work I've put in, and the start of something more special. I just have to keep working hard and use it as motivation to improve.”
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Megna said he didn't worry much about what might happen in the draft last summer.
“I was a little more into it my first year, and then I didn't go,” he said. “This past year I didn't worry about it — if it happened, it happened.”
“Don't be surprised if he has a chance (to move to the professional ranks) after next year,” Blais said.
The only Mav with a better rating this year are members of what had been the team's most productive forward line — Ryan Walters (plus-17), Josh Archibald (plus-14) and Dominic Zombo (plus-14) — and senior defenseman Bryce Aneloski (plus-15).
“Nothing he does this year surprises me,” Blais said. “It was his ability last year to be in the lineup almost every game that surprised me, considering we had a pretty talented (defensive) corps already.”
Blais brought in Megna as a 19-year-old, after he had one goal and 17 assists for Muskegon of the USHL.
“We needed more size, and he's a very smart kid,” Blais said. “He's a 4.0 student. But we looked at his ability to read plays defensively, and he's improved his hands and feet so much.”
Megna's brother, Jayson, is the family goal-scorer. Jayson, nearly three years older, made the WCHA's all-freshman team last season after recording 13 goals and 18 assists as one of the Mavericks' top centers.
He was slated to come back again this season, but elected to turn professional and signed with Pittsburgh last summer.
“It was sad for me, not being able to live with him any more,” Jaycob Megna said. “But I've been away from him before, and I was excited for him. It was a big opportunity.”
Jayson has three goals and three assists in 19 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, and keeps in contact with his younger brother.
“He calls me after pretty much every game and he watches us when he can,” Megna said. “He's very supportive of us.”
Don't be surprised if Jaycob Megna doesn't get some goal-scoring chance of his own.
“I'd say Anaheim would look at him as a defensive defenseman,” Blais said. “He's never been a great scorer, but with us he's going to have the opportunity to get down in the offensive zone a little bit more when called upon because his hands and feet are better.
“He'll have the opportunity to shoot the puck, and he may get more power play time because of it.”
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