Loan to World Juniors: Good for McCann, Bad for Canucks

Vancouver recently decided to loan Jake Virtanen to Team Canada for the upcoming World Juniors in Finland, and he might not be the only 19 year-old on the Canucks who ends up participating.

Rookie Jared McCann got off to a hot start for Vancouver this season, with five goals in his first nine NHL games, but he has only one goal and four points in 21 games since then. Of late in particular McCann’s stats haven’t been good; the 24th overall pick in 2014 has a minus-seven rating in his last eight games and hasn’t recorded a point since November 25th.

Barely two months into his NHL career, McCann is one of several Canucks who are likely being asked too much of right now. His ice time has risen to over 12 minutes a game, compared to only 10:45 in nine games in October, and he’s regularly played as the team’s third line center in the absence of Brandon Sutter. Tougher matchups have contributed to McCann’s 32.8% average in the faceoff circle, which is the lowest all of NHL centermen who have taken at least 200 faceoffs.

McCann’s stats at this point signify that, like Virtanen, the experience at the World Juniors this winter would be beneficial for him moving forward. There, McCann would get a chance to be one of Team Canada’s top players, and would present his first and final chance to play at the World Junior Championships.

But for the Canucks, loaning McCann would create yet another glaring hole in their lineup. As difficult as playing in the third line center spot has been for McCann, there aren’t any Canucks forwards who seem as suited to fill that spot, with Sutter out for the foreseeable future.

McCann’s World Junior Status Still Unknown

The NHL roster freeze for the Christmas break will go from Dec. 19-27, meaning the Canucks will likely decide on Dec. 18th on whether McCann will be loaned. The decision was likely much easier for the Canucks to loan Virtanen to the World Juniors, as his spot in the Canucks lineup hasn’t been solidified like fellow rookie McCann’s has. Virtanen is also expected to be a top six forward for Team Canada, which GM Jim Benning said weighed into the decision as well.

McCann may slot in as Team Canada’s second or third line center if he is loaned; Canada has strong depth at center already with Brayden Point, Dylan Strome and Matt Barzal down the middle.

The idea for Benning of sending McCann to the World Juniors would be for the rookie to play more and play in important situations constantly. Benning was assured that Virtanen would get this opportunity, so he’d likely want to have the same feeling about McCann’s role as well if he is to be loaned.

While the World Juniors likely presents a good chance for McCann, the same can’t be said for the reeling Canucks and their lineup. Loaning McCann, who would likely miss seven NHL games between Dec. 20 and Jan. 6, would mean Vancouver would need to call up a center from the AHL’s Utica Comets.

24 year-old Linden Vey would be the most likely option, a player who failed to earn an NHL roster spot with Vancouver when given the chance in the preseason. Vey has two goals, 14 points and a minus-six rating for the Comets through 25 games. Alex Friesen, also 24, is another option for the Canucks; he has seven goals, 12 points and a plus-six rating in 23 games. His numbers are slightly better than Vey’s, but Friesen, a former sixth round pick in 2010, has yet to debut in the NHL, and the move would be a drastic one for him to be thrown into.

With that in mind, the Canucks’ have had a poor season, and putting McCann in what’s sure to be a winning environment with Team Canada certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Team Canada went 7-0 to win gold at last year’s World Juniors tournament, and will without a doubt contend to repeat again this year. The Canucks, meanwhile, had only 11 wins through their first 32 games. The team sits 13th out of 14 teams in the Western Conference and have yet to win more than two consecutive games all season. This warrants reason to loan McCann to Team Canada, to help development a winning attitude for the 19 year-old, but also is a reason to keep him in the lineup, as a way to avoid the wheels falling off on the Canucks’ season.

An experience to represent Canada at the World Juniors, or a few extra NHL games which could be crucial for the Canucks season? McCann’s fate will be known soon enough.