Penguins’ McCann Fitting in Perfectly

On Feb. 23, 2018, the Pittsburgh Penguins traded for Derick Brassard and believed they had finally found the long-term solution for their third-line center. With superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin centering the top-two lines, Brassard initially made the Penguins the deepest team down the middle in the NHL.

Derick Brassard
Derick Brassard never found his mojo with the Penguins and was traded to the Florida Panthers after less than a season. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

However, it was immediately apparent that Brassard didn’t really fit the Penguins’ system as he failed to accept his third-line role. Almost as fast as he arrived, he was gone. On Feb. 1, 2019, general manager Jim Rutherford shipped Brassard and Riley Sheahan to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann and drastically improved their forward depth.

While Bjugstad has played well since the trade, McCann has been lights out and seems to get better every game.

McCann’s Versatility a Huge Plus

One of the biggest problems the Penguins had with Brassard was that he’s a one-trick pony, he could only play center. McCann has shown that his biggest asset is his versatility as he can play either center or on the wing and he can help kill penalties.

Prior to the trade, McCann was not known as a prolific goal scorer, but head coach Mike Sullivan was quick to praise his offensive ability since arriving:

He had a huge game for us. That short-handed goal, that’ll be on ESPN highlights. It was a great goal. That’s a goal-scorers goal. He can score. No matter where we put him, he can score.

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan

When Bryan Rust missed nearly a month with an injury, McCann stepped up and played on the top line alongside Crosby and Jake Guentzel. No matter where he is placed, he finds a way to produce both offensively and defensively.

His offensive output for the two teams he played for this season are drastically different:

  • Florida Panthers: 46 games played, eight goals, minus-nine rating
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: 26 games played, 11 goals, plus-six rating

Add that McCann has had three shorthanded goals since arriving in Pittsburgh and it’s clear that he has found his stride. His game-winning highlight-reel shorthanded goal on Mar. 23 against the Dallas Stars was Malkin-esque and showed the confidence that he has developed.

He hasn’t only been better offensively, but defensively as well. McCann has done a great job of winning key face-offs and making the safe play in his own end to make sure the puck is cleared. Brassard would continuously try to stickhandle through traffic in the defensive zone, but McCann has opted to chip pucks high and hard off the glass when needed and it has paid dividends.

McCann is Only Going to Get Better

Besides his versatility, McCann’s two biggest positives are that he is signed through next season (with only a $1.25 million cap hit) and that he is only 22 years old. At such a young age, the Penguins can continue to help him develop into a serious scoring threat.

Penguins center Jared McCann
At just 22 years old, Jared McCann has a bright future. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

As Crosby and Malkin get older, McCann alongside Guentzel, maybe the next wave of superstars that the Penguins have at their disposal. Rutherford traded away a lot of the team’s first- and second-round picks in past years, so McCann has worked his way into the franchise’s future.

The Penguins have fought through a lot of adversity this season, but McCann has been there to help them push for not only a playoff appearance, but a possible Metropolitan Division title. If he can keep playing at this level as the Penguins get healthy, they will be poised for a deep postseason run.