When the New Jersey Devils claimed forward Jean-Sebastien Dea off waivers on Sept. 28, the former Penguins prospect was already in the car, en route to Wilkes-Barre.
A couple minutes past noon, after Dea thought he had cleared waivers, his phone rang.
Upon answering, Dea learned he was now a Devil and would have to hoof it to Pittsburgh International Airport to catch a flight to Europe, meeting up with his new team in Gothenburg, Sweden.
“It was crazy,” Dea said Monday morning at PPG Paints Arena. “But really happy to be here now.”
It sure looks like it.
In 11 games with his new team, Dea already has three goals — or three times as many as he scored in six games with Pittsburgh’s NHL club. Dea has been centering an effective fourth line with Brian Boyle and Joey Anderson while averaging 10:24 of ice time. For the first time in his young career, he’s nailed down regular work.
“Bring some speed, bring some energy,” Dea said of his current role. “Hard on the forecheck, good at both ends of the ice. … I think that’s what they want here. If I score goals, that’s a bonus for me.”
The fact that the Devils claimed Dea probably should not have come as a surprise.
They’re run by former Penguins general manager Ray Shero, and Devils coach John Hynes was coaching the Baby Penguins when Dea arrived from Royun-Noranda of the QMJHL.
Dea said he and Hynes had plenty of open, one-on-one conversations. They might have been frustrating, Dea admitted, but they were hugely helpful in getting Dea to this point.
“Coming into the American League from junior, I had a lazy attitude,” Dea said. “[Hynes] showed me the right way to have success in the American League. I’m grateful now to be here and that he showed me all that stuff.”
Dea did turn into an effective player for the Penguins’ AHL affiliate. He had 57 goals, 114 points and was a plus-40 in 228 regular-season games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton over four-plus seasons.
The best came in 2015-16, when Dea set career highs for games played (75), goals (20), assists (16) and points (36).
That, however, failed to translate to the NHL, in large part because the Penguins didn’t have a spot for Dea.
“We were disappointed to lose J.S. because we value what he brings,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s a very good player. Having said that, we wish him the very best. ... We’re thrilled for him.”
So are a few of Dea’s former teammates. Daniel Sprong once shared a line with Dea and trained with him over the summer in Montreal. They visited briefly between morning skates on Monday.
“We were linemates last year for most of the season,” Sprong said. “We were pretty close on the team last year. I try to keep following him. I know he’s been doing well. It was good to see him and catch up. I’m happy for him.”
Jake Guentzel didn’t spend much time in Wilkes-Barre, but he saw that Dea could be an NHL regular in the right role.
“You knew it was just a matter of time before he was going to get a chance,” Guentzel said. “Obviously really happy for him.”
Dea said a big part of his fast start — those three goals came in New Jersey’s first four games — was the strong training camp he had with the Penguins. Once he realized how the Devils wanted to play — fast like the Penguins — it made the transition easier.
“I think I had a really good camp in Pittsburgh,” Dea said. “I just wanted to bring the same thing here. I think it’s the right fit for me. They play with a lot of speed and intensity. It’s exactly what my game is.”
Turns out Dea’s packing game is not different. With little time before he had to leave for Sweden, Dea said his batting average was close to 1.000.
“I made it,” Dea said. “Barely, though. I packed a little bit. I thought I forgot a bunch of stuff. I made it through the week, so that was good.
“It was a great experience. It was my first time in Europe. I got the chance to visit a little bit. I was really excited, obviously.”