When the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired former first-round pick Jared McCann from the Florida Panthers on Feb. 1 with Nick Bjugstad for Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan, and a draft pick exchange, McCann was the Penguins target, according to the GM Jim Rutherford. Florida relegated the 22-year-old center to the fourth line and he had not yet reached his offensive potential.
After being ushered to the arena from the airport via police escort so they could make the Feb. 1 game on time, and for a few weeks afterward, the Penguins inserted McCann into the lineup as their third line pivot, while Bjugstad received a top-six power forward audition. However, it didn’t take too long before the Penguins coaches realized Bjugstad was the better third-line center and McCann was the better winger.
And that is when McCann burned up the stat sheet.
In three previous seasons, McCann had not scored double-digit goals. However, in just 32 games with the Penguins, McCann lit the lamp 11 times. He found his chi with a few hot streaks beside Sidney Crosby. McCann’s speed, tenacity and more aggressive play in the offensive zone when placed on the wing afforded the Penguins even more lineup flexibility. Sidney Crosby’s compatriot, Jake Guentzel flipped to the right-wing to make room for McCann as the top-line left wing.
The 6-foot-1, 185 pound forward and Teddy Blueger also added danger to the Penguins penalty kill. McCann scored three shorthanded points, including a pair with Blueger.
McCann, 22, is a different player when he’s on the wing compared to playing center. In the middle, McCann is a conservative, defense-first center. On the wing, he’s a tornado of puck pursuit and pressure.
Jared McCann Line Dependent
McCann’s stats appear to be largely line dependent, however. When he was with Sidney Crosby his Corsi was in the 53% range (for the hockey fans rejoining us after a summer break, Corsi is the shots + shots attempted at 5v5). That’s a solid number but it’s below Crosby’s typical output. McCann had even better totals with Bjugstad (56% Corsi, 65% of scoring chances). All stats from NaturalStattrick.com
As a side note, the more we dig into the Penguins lineup, the more influential Bjugstad becomes.
When Sullivan paired McCann with Blueger at even strength, however, the pair were…toast. They managed just a 43% Corsi, which means they played far too much in their own zone. Yet they were barely outscored, 3-2. McCann posted similarly “defensive” numbers as a center, too. The sample sizes are all about equal (between 80 and 128 minutes for each situation), too.
The eyes tell us McCann is an asset. Much like Bryan Rust who can shuffle through the lineup, the Penguins have another winger who can grind, outskate opponents, and be tough to play against. McCann also plays a tenacious linear, north-south game without wasted detours.
However, McCann’s shooting percentage with the Penguins was over 15%. That’s probably not sustainable.
Prediction: Alex Galchenyuk’s success or failure in the Penguins top-six, as well as how Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan puts the puzzle together will determine his offensive output but not necessarily define McCann’s value. The Penguins are unlikely to flip Guentzel to the right-wing with any permanence to make room for McCann. He will have continue growing his offensive game without large doses of Crosby. However, side-saddling Bjugstad is a real possibility.
The Penguins rarely paired McCann with Malkin last season, so we can’t predict heavy top-six minutes.
We’ll project McCann as a third and fourth-liner who kills penalties, creates energy, momentum and a disproportionate number of chances.
13 goals. 20 assists. 33 points. 5 shorthanded points.
Jared McCann is also an RFA after this season. If the Penguins lineup needs him in the top-six, those numbers could spike, and so too could his paycheck, beginning next season.