by Nick Nollenberger | AHL On The Beat
When John McCarthy abruptly called it a career midway through last season due to health reasons, the San Jose Barracuda would play their final 34 games of the season without a captain.
For one of the AHL’s youngest rosters, McCarthy’s absence was felt immensely. Although he wasn’t far — he joined the team’s coaching staff immediately following his retirement — his on-ice absence was clear.
It didn’t help either that Roy Sommer, in the midst of his 22nd season in the AHL as head coach of the Sharks’ top affiliate, was promoted weeks before McCarthy’s announcement to the Sharks to become an associate coach. The team would go just 13-16-5-0 without McCarthy in the lineup and finished the season at the bottom of the league’s Western Conference.
Fast forward almost 14 months from McCarthy’s retirement. Sommer is back in the AHL and McCarthy is now the team’s development coach. So, the next question was, who would be the team’s third captain in franchise history?
Well, one player on the roster who had been a captain at the AHL level before was Jaycob Megna, who the Barracuda signed to an AHL contract on Nov. 2, 2020. Megna wore the “C” with the San Diego Gulls in 2018-19 and last year was an alternate captain with the Chicago Wolves under new Sharks associate coach Rocky Thompson.
Megna, being a first-year player in the organization, didn’t expect any sort of leadership role, let alone the captainship. But from day one of training camp on Jan. 11 in Chandler, Arizona, it was pretty evident that Megna was going to take that role.
“He’s got high leadership qualities; he was a captain in San Diego,” said Sommer on Feb. 6 after announcing that Megna would be his captain. “Being around him for the last 30 or so days (during training camp), you can tell he gets along with everybody. He’s kind of the center of attention, so to speak. It was kind of an easy decision for us. We lost a great leader in Johnny Mac, just the way he performed on and off the ice. Megs is similar to him.”
Megna’s connection to the Sharks organization goes beyond his time with the Ducks or even in Chicago under Thompson. When he was a teenager growing up just outside of Chicago, he was coached by current Sharks scout Jon Hull. When Barracuda general manager Joe Will was asking his scouts this offseason about specific players and depth options, Hull brought up Megna.
“There are lots of notches in the process where you get to the point that a player becomes a member of the organization,” said Hull. “Joe (Will), Doug (Wilson) Jr. and Burkey (Tim Burke) did the work to get to know and understand the player and even Roy (Sommer) and Jimmy Bonneau and Chaser (Mike Chiasson) were familiar with him when he was in Anaheim. He is considered family. He’s the godfather of my daughter. He’s just an extraordinary young man, a kid with extreme character, a great human being, and he works tremendously hard.”
Now 28 and in his eighth professional season, Megna says he remembers when he was a young guy in the room, leaning on veterans for guidance.
“I remember being the young guy and being around a lot of older guys and leaning on them for advice, and it’s something where you feel like you should be giving back,” said Megna. “It’s something that is going to have an impact on them for a long time. I still think of guys that helped me… I still think about the way I do things and why I show up and do the things I do because of certain guys that have influenced me.
“It’s definitely a role I take seriously and I think it’s a very important part of the American League and also the NHL. It’s something I’ve embraced and if I can help a couple of guys down the road and they can think back and say, well this guy showed me this, and this is why I do it — that makes it worthwhile.”
No player has been more impacted by Megna’s presence this season than the Sharks’ 2018 first-round pick Ryan Merkley, who’s been a defensive partner of Megna’s in every game this season.
“He always comes into the room happy. I think he brings up the morale in the room, great attitude, always positive,” said Merkley. “On the ice, he’s the perfect partner for me. He’s awesome defensively, he’s played pro hockey for almost a decade now. He’s very vocal, he’s always talking to me and he’ll let me know what he expects and what he sees on plays. He’s been awesome for me and he’s helped me grow my game.”
Barracuda GM Joe Will spoke to several people before the team signed Megna including his former coach, who felt like Megna would be a great mentor for all the Sharks prospects.
“I talked to Rocky Thompson, and he had Jaycob as a captain with the Chicago Wolves and he talked a lot about his leadership and how important it would be to have a player like him alongside Merkley and the rest of our prospects,” said Will. “He’s a good guy and a hard worker and we’re happy to have him.”
McCarthy, Barracuda captain from 2016 until his retirement in December 2019, said Megna was the easy choice to be the team’s captain because of his daily approach.
“He’s a team-first guy, his work habits are really good and it’s good for our young guys to see,” said McCarthy. “For an organization that puts development at a premium, your role is going to change from game-to-game and over the course of the season, so being able to be adaptable and being able to be plugged into different situations is huge and he is all those things.”
For Megna, wearing the “C” on his sweater is an honor and something he doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s a big honor and I’m humbled by it, especially just coming into this organization,” said Megna after he was named the team’s captain in early February. “I’m really excited, we’ve got a good group of young guys here but we’ve also got a couple of other guys that are a little bit older and have been here, that I’m able to lean on. It’s a collective effort but it’s definitely something I’m really proud of.”
In a year marred by a pandemic and a season that has already been filled with constant schedule changes and adversity, the Barracuda have seen first-hand the importance of having a player like Megna in the room, for not only team success and player development, but the overall well-being of the group.