PITTSBURGH — The smile is at the ready because hockey is a joy for Jared McCann. The Penguins diamond in the rough find at the NHL trade deadline has made an immediate impact on the 2018-19 Pittsburgh Penguins, who also seem to have made an impact on McCann. McCann was the Penguins spark plug in an emotional and important 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals, Tuesday night.
The 22-year-old McCann stole the puck from Evgeny Kuznetsov to set up the Penguins first goal–and more. Beginning with McCann’s heroics, The Penguins scored three goals in 1:48.
McCann was the Vancouver Canucks first-round pick in 2014 (24th overall) then traded to Florida just two years later, coincidentally for current Penguins teammate Erik Gudbranson. Neither Florida or Vancouver seriously challenged for a playoff spot during McCann’s tenure. The energetic McCann is relishing the new environment and opportunity.
Tuesday morning, Pittsburgh Hockey Now chatted with McCann (along with our friends at 93-7 The Fan). The line which jumped out was when McCann was asked about the pressure of the playoff chase.
“It’s more fun than anything. A lot of people take hockey as a job. I feel like if you look at it that way, you’ll be miserable,” McCann said. “I try to have as much fun as I possibly can. Always be happy.”
And in one answer, McCann showed how much he’s bringing to the Penguins environment. Not long ago, the Penguins were a crusty, veteran team which had little interest in the hockey games they were forced to play. In November, Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford called his team stale and the countdown to trades began.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now cycled back after McCann was a key piece of the Penguins win, Tuesday night. Same question, too. What about Tuesday night?
“It was a lot of fun. Obviously, they’re a good team and you’ve got to respect them, but this is our barn and we came out in the second period and took over.”
Well, it didn’t quite happen that way. In fact, the Penguins went nearly 15 minutes between even strength shots. Washington had a 2-0 lead and the Penguins were going through the motions. Until McCann heisted the puck fro Orpik.
“I was just trying to backcheck. I put my head down and got a couple of strides on the guy and was able to pickpocket him,” McCann said of the play. “Jake (Guentzel) made a great play to the front of the net.”
Guentzel slammed the pass past Washington goalie Braden Holtby. In a moment, the game changed.
1st and 3rd Line Flips
McCann has been flipped back and forth between the Penguins third line and top line. He was exclusively a top line guy Tuesday. McCann does adjust to his role and the difference in his linemates. It’s a little different lining up with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel instead of Nick Bjugstad and Patric Hornqvist.
“A little bit, yeah. I feel like it’s not just the personnel you play, it’s the type of style you have to play,” McCann said. “I’m trying to be a good all-around player. Whatever position they put me in, I’ve got to focus and try to contribute as much as I can.”
First Playoff Run
This is McCann’s first playoff run. A year in Vancouver and a couple of seasons with Florida aren’t the most conducive to playing in high-pressure situations but rather than shrinking from the challenge, McCann is grabbing it with both hands and enjoying it.
McCann has seven points (3g, 4a) in his last six games. It’s an entirely different March than he’s seen before, “More focus. Everyone is always dialed in and ready to go,” McCann said. “It comes down to focus and being prepared.”
In 20 games with the Penguins, McCann has 13 points (9g, 4a) including four points in the last two games over Stanley Cup contenders Boston and Washington.
That too is probably a lot of fun.