As a wide-eyed 19-year-old coming into training camp, Jared McCann wasn’t suppose to make the Vancouver Canucks.
He was expected to dominate in the OHL with Sault Ste. Marie, and build upon their second-round playoff exit in 2014-15.
However, the young centre from Stratford had other plans. He was flying during the preseason, while displaying great hands and a deceptive shot.
Not only was he one of the best among Canucks prospects in the preseason, but he was one of the best players.
He emphatically exceeded early expectations with five goals in his first nine games. Everybody knew it wasn’t sustainable, but it was obvious what skill set Jared McCann was going to bring to the NHL.
He’s going to be a dynamic offensive player in this league. Watch the puck fly off of his stick when he scored his first NHL goal:
He’s slowed down since his early season outburst for a number of reasons. Part of it comes from limited minutes and, as Willie Desjardins has pointed out, from wear and tear on a developing body.
McCann hasn’t played poorly by any stretch of the imagination, but he would definitely benefit from playing prominent minutes in an elevated role.
That’s why the best place for McCann next season is to play with the Utica Comets.
It’s hard to vouch for a player to be demoted to the AHL when he’s actually had a decent season.
However, a trip to Utica next season shouldn’t be seen so much as a demotion, but an opportunity to let his game flourish.
The Utica Comets have some good young centremen including Alex Friesen, Mike Zalewski and Cole Cassels. No, despite John Shannon’s atrocious predictions for the Canucks’ lineup next season, Cassels will remain in Utica.
McCann should earn a spot among one of the top two centre positions down in Utica next season. Spending a season with head coach Travis Green would be beneficial for his development. Green should help McCann improve on playing a 200 foot game, an area where he’s struggled this year. McCann’s -58 high-danger scoring chance differential is second-worst among Canucks forwards.
Expectations should be tempered, but offensively McCann has a chance to flourish in Utica. There aren’t many rookies who tear up the AHL, but McCann has already shown that he knows how to score at the NHL level. Playing in the AHL could allow him to find that consistency.
His offensive abilities shouldn’t be underestimated, but it’s clear that McCann definitely has to work on his strength. His faceoff numbers have taken a beating because of this, which is a small part of the reason why the Canucks are the worst faceoff team in the league.
He has literally taken a beating against the Canucks’ dreaded division rivals in Southern California. In games against the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings, McCann was pushed around. To his credit, he didn’t backed down, but it is clear that adding some strength would benefit from adding some strength.
With Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter and Bo Horvat ahead of McCann on the depth chart, there’s no point sticking the centre on the fourth line next season. To Desjardins’ credit, McCann has seen more time with Vrbata rather than Brandon Prust and Derek Dorsett, according to leftwinglock.com. However, it is hard to envision him in a similar scenario with three capable centres ahead of him on the depth chart.
You could make the argument to keep McCann in Vancouver. He mentioned in an article from Jeff Paterson that his greatest improvement this season has occurred in the gym. He’s worked hard with Canucks strength and conditioning coach Roger Takahashi. Taking McCann away from the Canucks means they can’t control his workout environment.
Also, if one of the Canucks centremen get injured, McCann should be the first guy to catch a plane back to Vancouver. If Sutter or Sedin goes down long term, McCann shouldn’t have a problem slotting back into the lineup.
Injuries aside, it’s best for the Canucks and for McCann to play big minutes next year. Let him play in all situations for the Utica Comets under Green’s tutelage.
There will be plenty of time to score some more highlight-reel goals for the Canucks in the near future.