Jared McCann Belongs on the Pittsburgh Penguins Top Line

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COLUMBUS, OH - FEBRUARY 26: Jared McCann #19 of the Pittsburgh Penguins controls the puck during the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 26, 2019 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Jared McCann has been a hot hand for the Pittsburgh Penguins since being acquired by the team in February. Head coach Mike Sullivan and his propensity to shuffle players around led to McCann finding himself on the Penguins top line. Alongside Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, McCann quickly showcased his talents. He thrived on the top line and the chemistry he had there shouldn’t be dismissed so easily.

Jared McCann Had Less Than Impressive Start

During his first year in the NHL, Jared McCann found himself experiencing a disappointing season with the Vancouver Canucks. Despite initially being labelled as a great offensive weapon, he finished the year with just nine goals and 18 points. He failed to live up to the hype he was presented with when the Canucks drafted him in 2014, and his future with the club looked bleak.

In May of 2016, Vancouver made a blockbuster decision that shook their fanbase. They sent McCann and two picks to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Erik Gudbranson and a fifth-round selection. McCann spent the bulk of his time on the Panthers third and fourth lines. He saw less than 12 minutes a night.

After sustaining an injury in his first year with Florida, McCann found himself resigned to the AHL for 42 games. Next season, he rejoined the Panthers after making a full recovery. The team utilized him as a two-way center in their bottom six. McCann slowly settled into the role he was cast in with the Panthers, and the sparkle he once showed of being an NHL superstar seemed to fade further and further away.

The March to the Penguins

When this season began, McCann had resolved himself to his third-line center role for Florida. Despite showing signs of improvement, the forward seemed to be expendable to the organization. Capitalizing on his cap friendly contract, the Panthers packaged him up with Nick Bjugstad and shipped them to Pittsburgh. The Penguins saw the deal as them getting a depth piece in McCann.

McCann found his stride in Pittsburgh, initially in his familiar third-line role. The Penguins utilize his diversity and play him both on the wing and at center. The young forward tallied three goals in his first ten games. His production continues to rise since coming to the city, and he’s registered eight points in his last 11 appearances.

More Than a Depth Piece

When McCann arrived in Pittsburgh, he brought with him a positive attitude and a perpetual work ethic. He was ready to evolve as a player. After slotting into the Penguins first line, he started to find that long lost spark again. He began to show that he can be a brick in the solid foundation the Penguins need.

McCann brings a level of confidence to the table with his diverse abilities. He’s comfortable taking faceoffs when needed because of his experience as a center. He concentrates his instincts to read plays and generate scoring opportunities. In addition, he also boasts a dependable defensive mind.

Since putting on the black and gold, McCann’s numbers have steadily started to climb. In 46 games with the Panthers this season, he netted eight goals and ten assists. After dressing for just 25 contests with his new team, he’s already acquired thirteen points. Additionally, he’s sitting with an average of 0.36 goals per game. That’s a significant improvement from 0.17 in Florida.

Top Line Spotlight

On March second, McCann’s name appeared on the ever-growing list of Penguins who’ve cycled through Crosby’s line this season. The thought behind the addition was to capitalize on McCann’s speed and generate some offensive opportunities. If you subscribe to the theory that Crosby brings out the best in his linemates, then McCann’s desire to evolve could be just around the corner.

He quickly established natural chemistry with both Crosby and Guentzel. His velocity injected new energy into the line. That combination of a top line was absolutely dominating. Yes, the Pens need scoring depth in their bottom six desperately. But is it worth breaking up such a well working combination? Letting Jared McCann thrive on the first line would also allow the Pens to slide other players down, improving the depth scoring.

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