He doesn’t feel like the only young guy in the locker room anymore. Jared McCann’s personality is breaking through much like his goal-scoring ability did last season. Hidden as a fourth-line center in Florida like a sunken Spanish galleon, the Pittsburgh Penguins found a hidden treasure when they flipped McCann to the left wing. And he obviously enjoys playing hockey.
It wasn’t a great political conversion to the left wing but a position change born of necessity. The Penguins acquired Nick Bjugstad and McCann from Florida for Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan and picks last Feb. 1. Bjugstad was predominantly a center until the previous 12-18 months when he played primarily right wing in Florida. The Penguins had hopes McCann, who was the fourth line center in Florida, could fill the vacant third-line center role and Bjugstad would be a big power forward they haven’t had in a long, long time.
But McCann didn’t produce enough offensive pressure in the middle and Bjugstad didn’t work as well on the wing. Changes were made. Then goals were scored. McCann posted 11 goals (11g, 6a), which was a career-best output, in just 32 games with the Penguins. Though McCann was a bit self-effacing when asked about the difference between playing center and the wing.
“So I mean I’m just trying to be in the right place and always and I’m still learning obviously and sometimes I catch myself kind of looking around down low,” he admitted. “They want us to be an aggressive forechecker for progressing everything, right?t So, we feel like that’s what we’re gonna do to kind of create turnovers and get on the puck. We’ve got the speed of the team so we can do that.”
Yes, the Penguins do again have the team speed. One year ago, the same could not be said. However, a quick glance at the roster of forwards and there aren’t any who can’t skate well, and others like Bryan Rust, Brandon Tanev, Teddy Blueger, and McCann possess superior speed, too.
PHN remarked to the 24-year-old McCann, looking around the room, the Penguins clearly have become a very fast team, again.
“Yeah, I know! You could even tell with you know practices and pace of them, it’s through the roof,” laughed McCann. “So it’s been good. You kind of catch yourself out of breath every now and then.”
If McCann is out of breath at the pace which the Penguins are able to generate, that bodes well for the Penguins and could again be a problem for opponents. Though McCann is part of the new breed which the Penguins have sought. He is young, fast, gritty and a positive personality. McCann encapsulates everything the Penguins needed to add. He is a part of the fresh air which the Penguins locker room sorely needed, he is part of the youth movement and part of the tenacious speed game the Penguins want.
It was when we asked McCann about the whirlwind 2018-19 Pittsburgh Penguins season. For McCann and Bjugstad it began with a race against time to arrive for their first Penguins game. They received a police escort from the airport and didn’t meet their new teammates until the national anthem. And that’s not exaggerating. Despite personal successes in March, the Penguins were then summarily dismissed without a peep by the New York Islanders in Round One; it was a ruthless four-game sweep.
“You know, we came in here and I feel like we’ve made some changes in the offseason. We’re going to come back as a strong team and be good,” McCann said
Pittsburgh Penguins Team Chemistry
Perhaps I, as a writer inferred something, or perhaps it was there. When McCann mentioned offseason changes, my mind went immediately to one big change. So, my follow up question was simple. Does team chemistry make a difference?
McCann’s answered flowed quickly, just as the rest of our conversation.
“It does. It does. I really believe in team chemistry. Guys like Sid (Crosby) and all of the assistant captains, they really go out of their way to kind of make everybody feel welcome,” he said with emphasis. “You know whether it’s like having dinner at their house or stuff like that. I really believe in team chemistry. These are the guys you play hockey for.”
“I mean you’ve got to come out here, we’ve got to give it our all. You know, chemistry is huge when it comes to just being there for each other.”
That statement can stand alone without too much gawking in the rearview mirror, as McCann probably intended it. The sentiment can also stand as a contrast to recent past events, too.
It also helps that the Penguins are suddenly a younger team. They were the second oldest team in the NHL to begin last season. After a yearlong stealth youth movement, the Penguins 20-somethings now have company.
“Yeah, a bit of a younger team. I don’t feel I feel so young anymore,” McCann laughed, not because he’s getting older but because the room is getting younger. “It’s kind of good but I feel like we have got the youth and we’re ready to make a push.”
Though we had to explain to McCann where the South Side is located and why it is so popular. As a 24-year old, there is no doubt he’ll find it, just as the 2014 first-round pick who was previously cast in defensive roles is finding offensive layers to his game.
The Pittsburgh Penguins locker room is again full of groups of players hanging out, laughing and enjoying their scene. The difference in the Penguins room is already noticeable. Chemistry, speed, and youth are suddenly in abundance.