Jared McCann is one of the breaths of fresh air in the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room. Even though reporters are no longer able to visit the room to have a chat with players about the practices and situations, McCann’s enthusiasm is still showing.
The 23-year-old McCann finished his first full season with the Penguins after GM Jim Rutherford sought him in the Derick Brassard-trade near the 2019 NHL trade deadline. This season, he uncorked honest quotes like “Aww sh*t,” when asked about the seemingly endless cavalcade of injuries that plagued the Penguins.
Tuesday, McCann dished about the line he will pivot in the upcoming 24-team Stanley Cup tournament, which begins Aug. 1. Though it wasn’t necessarily the Penguins plan, McCann became the third line center this season as Nick Bjugstad dealt with injuries for the entirety of the season and had spinal surgery in April.
Bjugstad won’t be available, so McCann is the third center with newly acquired 40-year-old Patrick Marleau on his left and 33-year-old Patric Hornqvist on his right.
“We look at ourselves like the game-changers, and we feel like we have something that a lot of teams don’t,” McCann said. “We have that veteran presence with “Patty” and “Horny,” and I’m just trying to complement them.”
In honor of McCann’s enthusiasm for his work, we broke PHN policy and printed Hornqvist’s nickname. Also, McCann admitted he still has a Marleau-signed puck McCann received when he was 12.
“I remember I met Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Patty signed a puck for me. I actually have it,” McCann explained. “My parents are moving, so they found the puck…”
This season, McCann tied his career-best point total (35), that he set last season. McCann’s 14 goals weren’t a career-best, but he provided the speed up the middle, which the Penguins coaches enjoyed.
Marleau still has good wheels, and everyone knows Hornqvist can be found in front of the net. It should provide the Penguins a speedy line against the pesky Montreal Canadiens in the Qualifying Round and a physical presence that Montreal cannot match.
Preliminary video reviews by PHN, which we will publish in the coming weeks, demonstrate Hornqvist’s unique value in the series against Montreal. However, Hornqvist was one of nine Penguins players who were voluntarily isolated on Monday because of secondary exposure to COVID-19. Hornqvist was held out again on Tuesday and figures to be isolated for several days or up to 10 days until he can be cleared.
“Being with the guys now, going through what we’re going through, it’s just going to bring us together that much more,” Marleau said of the quarantine process and unique circumstances.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will face Montreal in a five-game playoff series beginning Aug. 1. Getting up to full speed is a chore for all players, but especially veteran players. Hornqvist, 33, and Marleau, 40, qualify.
“You have an abbreviated training camp, and then you’re right into it,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said on Monday. “You’ve got to be ready, but you also have to understand that you have to get better with every game. It’s just about getting momentum…”
The Penguins and head coach Mike Sullivan will be relying on the boyish McCann to get momentum for the elder statesmen on his wings. Like Marleau, McCann also has not won a Stanley Cup.
The quest to win a Cup for Marleau will be one of the driving forces for the Pittsburgh Penguins, as it could be Marleau’s last chance. And for it to happen, the Penguins need a solid third line to be a game-changer.
Jared McCann thinks they’re it.