Florida Panthers 20 Under 21: #2 Jared McCann

69 games of NHL experience has forward near the top of our list

It hardly seems fair including Jared McCann on our list, but we don’t make the rules, we just write within them. Okay, actually, “yes” we do make the rules. So then, here is Jared McCann, one of the Cats great hopes to help poor Nick Bjugstad out, at second on our countdown.

#2 - Jared McCann - Forward - Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

Highest Ranking: 2  Lowest Ranking: 3

Jared McCann landed in South Florida amidst what is, in South Florida, some hockey controversy. McCann was acquired in the shocking trade of popular potential future captain Erik Gudbranson, that seemed to come out of nowhere. Was it a money deal? Was it truly aimed at enhancing the Panthers 3rd line? Maybe a little of both?

McCann’s numbers in Vancouver last year were nothing to write home about, 9 goals in 69 games played. Most of those goals were scored in the first half of the season. Additionally, writers for that Canadian institution, TSN, picked up whispers that this 20-year old was not popular in the Canucks locker room. Further, in post trade interviews, McCann expressed how much he preferred the center position to wing, and we all know he will not play center in Florida. All of this, for South Florida, is about as controversial as it gets in hockey circles. Well, we declare: “baloney.”

Its time for a fresh start. South Florida sports is all about fresh starts, and this is especially the case in hockey. Stashed well-away from the leering Canadian press corps, players are mostly left-alone in the southern half of the Sunshine State. Jared McCann has earned his fresh start.

McCann voluntarily came to South Florida for Development Camp this summer, and has been around town for other portions of the off-season as well. He has displayed a dedicated focus on work-outs and strength conditioning, and the results have been noted by Panther brass: he is bigger and stronger than last season in Vancouver. He has  also seemingly gotten along very well with his fellow Panther prospects, and was noted for the leadership he provided (from his experience in Vancouver last season), to the younger players at Development Camp. While an injury ultimately sidelined him for much of that camp, McCann has embraced the Panthers.

That is excellent news, because the Panthers and their fans are more than ready to embrace him. As starved as the team is for 3rd line wings who can contribute, he is seen as the great 3rd line wing hope. Consider that 3rd line center Nick Bjugstad played with the following cast of wingers last season: Rocco Grimaldi, Logan Shaw, Garrett Wilson, Kyle Rau, John McFarland, Teddy Purcell, Quinton Howden, Jiri Hudler, and Brandon Pirri. Seven of those nine players are no longer with the Panthers in any capacity. Enter McCann.

With McCann there is last season, and there is potential, and they are in conflict to a certain degree. The 9 goals and 9 assists in 69 games last season for Vancouver were mostly produced in the first half of the 2015-16 campaign. That limited output may have had something to do with him playing at 6’0”, 179 lbs. last year, as a 19-year old rookie. There were many who believed that he should have been returned to the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for another year of development rather than stick in the NHL with the Canucks.

It’s hard to say if McCann would have benefited from such a move. In 2014-15, McCann was better than a point-per-game player for the Greyhounds, with 81 points in 56 regular season games (34 goals, 47 assists). He continued on that pace in the playoffs that year, putting up 16 points in 14 games (6 goals, 10 assists). He finished that season, 2nd in points on the ‘Hounds. This followed his 2013-14 campaign, a 56-game season for the Greyhounds, during which he scored 27 goals and added 35 assists, to go with 7 points in 9 playoff games (2 goals, 5 assists) - also good for 2nd on the team in points.

It was that season that led to McCann being selected by Vancouver the first round of the 2014 NHL draft draft, 24th overall. His Elite Prospects scouting report from that time period is extensive and fantastic:

A highly intelligent finesse player who fits the mould of the traditional two-way center. An excellent skater who displays consistent agility. Tremendous release on his shot, but can get caught thinking instead of doing. Transition game is elite, and his quickness at switching from defence to offence is so abrupt that it catches a lot of players off-guard. The work ethic, talent, and hockey sense is all there, but the biggest thing is that McCann needs to be more confident in his abilities. When he is on his game he can be dominant, and when he is offensively and defensively assertive, he is near impossible to stop. As he continues to grow into more prominent roles, he will develop more upward-trending habits and become more consistent. His potential is that of an elite offensive forward who can make an impact on the game at both ends of the ice.

Elite and impactful, are certainly terms you like to see in a scouting report. Yet, the report also poses some concerns that remain part of the issues surrounding McCann today. Dobber Prospects was more staid in their scouting report, although they believed he could be a top-10 selection at the 2014 draft:

McCann projects as a responsible two-way centerman with scoring upside at the NHL level and will compete for a top 10 selection at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

Move forward to last season, and what happened in Vancouver. The trending of the reports is noteworthy. Recall that I mentioned his goal scoring was heavily front-loaded?

November 2015- McCann received some great news Monday morning (Nov.2) to start his week. The club announced that both he and Jake Virtanen had made the team and will be sticking around past the 10 game mark. The 19-year-old has steadily contributed this season as he leads the team with five goals through his nine games played. He penchant for tickling the twine, work ethic, and solid two-way play earned him his spot on this team.

Five of the nine goals he scored on the season in 2015-16, were in the first nine games he played. He would score only 4 more the rest of the way. The December, 2015 report was more oriented towards development into a middle-6 center:

December 2015 - This has certainly been a learning experience for Jared McCann. After making the Canucks out of training camp along with fellow former 1st round pick Jake Virtanen, he has consistently served a bottom six role with the organization in his first year of NHL hockey putting up two goals and six points with a minus-3 rating and 10 PIM in November and December-to-date. With modest offensive totals in a more defensive role, to go along with a face-off percentage hovering around 30% since the beginning of November, McCann is still learning the ropes of the big show. Given his young age of nineteen, along with his on-the-job training, McCann stands in a good place to continue his development into a middle-six pivot.

Fast forward to April, 2016, and the report on McCann was aimed more at a two-way player than offensive stand-out:

April 2016 – The “other” of the 19-year-olds on the Canucks roster, along with Jake Virtanen, McCann faced a steep learning curve in his first season as an NHL player. Finishing up the campaign with nine goals and 18 points, the former Sault St. Marie Greyhound found himself playing in a bottom-six role for the most part. This may certainly be a reflection of his future in the NHL, as his upside has been described as that of a responsible second-line pivot. While the season the Canucks had may leave much to be desired, it may also reflect a base-case scenario for McCann and Vancouver’s other young players. That means an ability to play at the pro level with reasonable expectations, allowing them to learn the subtle points of the game and grow in a nurturing environment.

There is no doubt that there were usage issues that likely hamstrung the young center. He spoke to that in an interview with Florida Panthers.com’s Jameson Olive:

“Going through games where you don’t really do too much was frustrating. When I played in juniors, I was known as a goal scorer and a guy that contributed offensively. Last year, it was kind of a different role for me.”

McCann was used as a bottom-6 pivot in the Western Conference, with notable size and weight deficiencies. His lack of size was a big problem:

Jared McCann

All of this returns us to the question of whether he would have been better served spending another season in the OHL. The answer is “probably not.” While McCann was not physically ready to play in the NHL, he was unlikely to gain anything from another year in juniors playing against 16 and 17-year-olds. There is no question he was a casualty of the NHL/CHL player agreement that prevented him from playing in the AHL (and that I am well-noted for hating). Where does that leave us with respect to McCann?

He has put on 25 lbs. since the end of last season, via diet and workouts. He has been noted for a workmanlike attitude, and wants to show the Panthers they made the right decision when they acquired him. Perhaps we are seeing the prospect that Hockey’s Future named the Canucks top prospect, in March, 2016, saying:

McCann is a gifted playmaker who skates well, accelerating quickly and with strong lateral mobility. He has a long reach and utilizes it well in all three zones. He is a two-way center with outstanding hockey IQ and his on-ice vision and decision-making are exceptional. He plays at a consistent high level with determination and a competitive edge. He is strong on face-offs and should continue to develop the supplementary aspects of his game. His lack of bulk and injury history are concerns.

McCann is already an NHL player. He has been through one campaign, and faced the powers of the Western Conference on a nightly basis. He has done so as more of a checking line player, assigned to mostly 3rd and 4th line duty on what was a bad Vancouver team. Due to his injury at Development Camp, we have not yet seen much of the “new” McCann, and therefore have a hard time saying what it is the Panthers have in this stronger young man. Yet, the projections suggest that, at a minimum, the Cats have a usable middle-6 forward with offensive upside. One thing his likely linemate, Nick Bjugstad, showed in the playoff series with the Islanders is that he can attract and handle a lot of attention. This would suggest that McCann is about to be placed in a very favorable situation for all involved. That, my friends, bodes well.

There is a lot of competition for 3rd line wing positions on the Panthers at this year’s training camp. Every indication we can detect from this off-season suggests that McCann is coming in dedicated and more ready to compete. He stated to Jameson Olive, that he is comfortable on the wing, likes the Panthers skill-oriented game, and cares as much about offense as he does defense. We, at LBC, like his chances, and that is what has landed him at #2 on our list.