Friday Insider: How McKegg was rescued from Florida


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Greg McKegg in the opener. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Just as the puck seemed to follow Greg McKegg all through the Penguins' training camp, so did some of the setting's most compelling questions, such as:

1. Uh, who's Greg McKegg?
2. Is that really his name?
3. He's going to make the team? Seriously?

Well, now that he's not only made it but also performed as one of the most consistent forwards after two games, it's probably the right time to ask this, too:

How did this guy, at a fairly young 25, get repeatedly discarded by three previous NHL organizations?

"You know what?" he replied to my question on that topic the other day, "I'm really just looking forward right now. I'm happy to be here, to have this opportunity."

Healthy approach. But I went looking for more.

Rewind to 2010, and McKegg, a native of Saint Thomas, Ontario, was a third-round pick of the Maple Leafs in the midst of a four-year stay up I-79 with the Erie Otters of the OHL. He put up a bunch of points -- 86 goals and 91 assists over 133 games in his final two seasons -- but anyone stuck in juniors that long, especially with an organization as miserable as Toronto's, isn't exactly sending out the right signals.

Skating was holding him back, from what I was told by the Penguins' development people, but he upgraded that through standard skating instruction aimed at lengthening his stride. And after two years in the AHL, he finally poked his nose into the Toronto lineup for a single game in 2013-14 and three more in 2014-15.

The Leafs let him go after that.

Then, after 15 and 31 games over the next two seasons with Florida, the Panthers let him go, too.

After 15 games with the Lightning, poof, he was waived there, too.

In 66 NHL games spread over half a decade, he had five goals, five assists and eight sweaters.

"You have to wait for your chance in this game, but you've also got to work for it," McKegg said. "I came in here after working pretty hard to be ready for this game."

At the urging of Bill Guerin, he signed a one-year, two-way $650,000 contract with the Penguins, a term that basically guarantees being ticketed for Wilkes-Barre. Except that he caught management's eye by reporting in exceptional shape, then all else that unfolded.

But it couldn't be so simple, right?

No, it isn't.

For one, as team officials told me, their research on McKegg had been that, even as he'd missed a huge percentage of games in his professional career -- 308 out of 410 for his various teams -- he also played hurt through a lot of those, including in 2016-17.

"He never had a chance to be himself," one of those team officials told me.

For another, the explanation continued, McKegg was "beaten down by a bad situation" with one of the two NHL teams that employed him last season. It wasn't clarified whether that meant the Panthers or Lightning, but Florida was a known mess on and off the ice, so I'm going to lean toward that end of Alligator Alley.

Regardless, McKegg has found a good fit with a head coach who values his speed, creativity and two-way consistency, as well as a front office that values his place on the depth chart enough to buy some time toward finding another center or two.

• One of Jim Rutherford's three center targets, unquestionably, is Matt Duchene. But don't overthink why it hasn't happened: Joe Sakic has proven to be as patient as the Avalanche's GM as he once was with the puck. The man's driving his counterparts nuts.

• Not that I'll accuse anyone of lying about injuries -- as opposed to the standard hiding that happens -- but I've got a hard time with Patric Hornqvist's hand injury not being characterized as a setback when I watched him shoot, pass and even take contact in an informal skate at the Lemieux Sports Complex the week before training camp.

On top of that, I heard within the past 48 hours that he's probably going to miss the first 'couple weeks' of the season.

How could that not be a setback?

• Speaking of changed tunes, what could possibly have gotten into Ben Roethlisberger to swing from his AB-being-AB shrug last Sunday in Baltimore to all-out shredding Antonio Brown two days later?

I've not been able to substantiate it, but apparently there was some kind of pivotal interaction that occurred in the interim.

• Before handing over the keyboard to the football guy, I'd love to use this space to offer the biggest possible praise to the Pirates, from Bob Nutting down, for their above-and-beyond effort in organizing, collecting and hand-delivering relief supplies to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico:

That's the franchise of Roberto Clemente performing as it should.

at Rooney Sports Complex

• If you are concerned about how the Ben Roethlisberger/Antonio Brown feud might've affected the locker room, don't be worried because it didn't -- at all.

While it was a unique story with both the franchise quarterback and the head coach publicly denouncing the sideline outburst of the best player on the team, in the grand scheme of things, it's not a big deal and every player I talked to this week told me such.

• The biggest issue with Brown's outburst wasn't the throwing of the bucket or the aftermath that played out in the public, but it was the slapping away of Todd Haley's arm. You just can't do that.

• I said this the other day and I'll say it again: We beg for athletes to be honest and open, and when they are, we tell them they need to shut up. Roethlisberger is guilty of speaking his mind and saying what he believes and I will never criticize him, or any athlete, for doing that.

Stephon Tuitt is considering wearing an elbow brace against the Jaguars. An elbow brace for a biceps injury? In theory, it is supposed to help with the possibility of hyperextending the joint while giving it support. Tuitt didn't wear it last week against the Ravens. Instead, he just taped it. I would imagine a tough guy like that would just tape it again.

• I was told the reason why long snapper Greg Warren all of a sudden retired in May was because of a serious neck injury. Warren had issues with his knees, but it makes a lot of sense to call it quits when something like a neck is involved.

• The Chief Award is given to the player who is most helpful to the media. If Joe Haden isn't at the top of that list this year, there's something wrong.

• Don't adjust your television sets on Sunday when the Steelers host the Jaguars. You are going to see the Black and Gold of the Steelers but you will also see a sprinkling of navy blue, teal, gold, pink and other colors.

The NFL expanded its Breast Cancer Awareness month of October to support all cancer awareness initiatives and a number of players are going to participate for the Steelers on Sunday by wearing colored cleats, gloves and wrist bands.

There will be plenty of pink, but there will be other colors as well represented: Brown will wear blue for prostate cancer and William Gay will wear lavender shoes in support of general cancer.

The NFL has supported Breast Cancer Awareness month for years, but decided to expand it to all cancers after a suggestion from Devon Still, whose young daughter battled cancer three years ago.

These are the colors that will be represented: navy blue (colon cancer), pink (breast cancer), lavender (general cancer), teal (cervical cancer), blue (prostate cancer), gold (childhood cancer) and white (lung cancer).

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