Jared McCann has scored more goals in 26 games as a Penguins forward than in any of his previous three seasons. The Vancouver Canucks 2014 first-round pick (24th overall) had not scored more than nine goals in a season before being dropped into Pittsburgh, which has been the epicenter of offensive hockey for two generations.
McCann, 22, already has 11 goals in his 26 games including three multi-goal games. When he scores one, the second has been quick to follow.
“I feel like I have that shoot first mentality. I rely on my shot a lot. It’s something I always work on,” McCann said. “I’m playing with two great players now who are finding me with the puck and it’s been great.”
Those two players McCann referenced are Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel.
McCann seemed to indicate he had this offensive streak all along, but Vancouver then Florida wanted different things from the speedy forward who has played mostly center in the NHL and mostly been cast in defensive roles. McCann put up 81 points including 34 goals with the Soo Greyhounds in his final year of juniors.
McCann’s rookie year in Vancouver was 2015-16. He had 18 points (9g, 9a) in 69 games. However, in the offseason, McCann was traded to the Florida Panthers in a deal which centered around current Penguins teammate Erik Gudbranson.
But one of McCann’s teammates on the Soo Greyhounds was Penguins goalie Matt Murray, who didn’t forget about McCann’s offensive ability.
“He’s sick,” Murray praised his longtime friend Saturday night after McCann’s Spin-o-Rama game-winning goal. Of course, Murray meant “sick” in the hockey sense which means McCann has unbelievable skills.
“As I came into the league, the different situations I was put in, it was different for me and I had to learn from it,” McCann said before looking on the bright side of perhaps being miscast. “I feel like I’m a better player because of it. I’ve learned the defensive side of hockey.”
Overall, McCann has 19 goals this season including his 11 markers with the Penguins. The forward had not scored more than nine goals in any of his previous three seasons.
It also doesn’t hurt to play meaningful hockey in March which is something McCann has not previously experienced in his NHL career. Neither Florida or Vancouver were in serious contention for the postseason during McCann’s tenures.
“It’s awesome. I’m excited. I feel like the last game was a stepping stone,” McCann said. “I feel like we have no where to go but up from here.”
Up would be in the Metro standings as the Penguins trail the Washington Capitals by three points for the division lead. Don’t skip past the change in attitudes. Just a few weeks ago, the Penguins were looking backwards as Montreal and Carolina had caught them for the final playoff spot.
Now, the Penguins are hunting teams ahead of them.
McCann was cast as the fourth line center in Florida until Penguins GM Jim Rutherford acquired he and Nick Bjugstad on Feb. 1 or pending free agents Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan.
The deal will go down as one of, if not Rutherford’s best. McCann was viewed by many as a fourth line replacement player and Bjugstad the center of the trade but the Penguins knew better. McCann is currently on a 34-goal pace if his first 26 games in a Penguins sweater were extrapolated over an 82-game schedule.
All of that for a fourth line LW (Sheahan) and Brassard who Florida flipped to Colorado for only a third-round selection. Next time, Rutherford should wear a mask when he commits robbery?
Of course, like the other Penguins young players McCann also praised center Matt Cullen for his help, especially on the penalty kill. McCann has not McCann’s highlight reel goal Saturday was a shorthanded goal. Penalty killing duty is not something McCann has been heavily involved until being acquired by the Penguins.
“I played power play in juniors. You kind of pick up what guys are going to do and the plays that are open,” McCann said. “I’ve been able to learn from a lot of guys. (Cullen) has helped me a lot with being in the right positions.”
Right now, McCann is in the right position at the right time. Literally and figuratively.