Jared McCann: What’s Next After Penguins Signing Two-Way Center To New Deal?
|Photo Credit: Peter Diana/Post-Gazette|
The Pittsburgh Penguins entered this offseason with a few things that needed to be cleared up. Both of their goalies are in need of a new contract, which has led them to explore trade options for Matt Murray.
Another was to get younger and faster, which they took the right step forward with the addition of Kasperi Kapanen from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
One more decision they had to make was on Jared McCann. Acquired by the Penguins from the Florida Panthers, McCann was a former first round pick who would be playing for his third organization by time he suited up for his first game in Pittsburgh.
Reports had come out that the Penguins were torn on McCann. Some saw him as the team’s answer to the third line center role. Others thought he was a better fit at the wing. So they explored trade options as a way to maximize his value to the team.
They decided to invest on McCann, at least for the next couple of seasons, to see which player they have on their hands - the third line center, or a middle-six winger, signing the 24-year old forward to a two-year contract, with a very Team friendly $2.94 million cap hit.
A look at the player McCann is, and what they can expect from him now that they got him locked up.
A Brief History
Pittsburgh is now the third city that McCann has called home, after being drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, 24th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
He made his debut as a 19-year old with the Vancouver Canucks, scoring nine goals and 18 points in 69 games. That offseason, McCann was a part of a big trade that send him to Florida, along with draft picks, in exchange for Erik Gudbranson, a move that many were curious about at the time.
Over the next 143 games he played, bouncing between the NHL and AHL, McCann scored 18 goals and 53 points mostly as a depth forward for the Panthers.
Part of another trade, McCann was packages with Nick Bjugstad and sent to Pittsburgh in exchange for Derrick Brassard, Riley Sheehan and three draft picks.
McCann showed off his versatility immediately with the Penguins. Bouncing up and down the lineup, playing all three forward spots, even finding himself on a line with Sidney Crosby at times.
Going forward of course he is expected to sure up the third-line for the Penguins, especially with the addition of Kapanen.
So what are the Penguins getting with McCann? An even more in-depth look at what the former first-round pick has brought to the table.
McCann A Perfect Fit In Pittsburgh
In 98 games since being traded to the Penguins, McCann has scored 25 goals, added 27 assists for a very respectable 52 points in that span.
When it comes to individual scoring rate at 5v5, I looked at all forwards who played at least 600 minutes this past season.
While he doesn’t stand out in too many categories, McCann proves that he truly fills in perfectly as the team’s third line pivot.
* All numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, unless indicated otherwise.
McCann ranks middle of the pack or better in almost every category, outside of shooting percentage, which makes him perfect for a middle-six role when it comes from production standpoint.
His actual scoring rate being a little higher than his expected goal rate would be concerning but he has made a career out of that (all but one season he finished that way), and regardless he ends up in the same range (106th in G/60, 119th in xG/60).
The part where McCann excelled was on the defense side of things, which is why some thought he would be the better fit down the middle on the third line.
When on the ice, McCann had one of the best expected goal against rates in the league, and an actual goal against mark in the top half of the same group of forwards.
Again, McCann you can make a case McCann ran into some luck offensively, gauging by the difference between his GF/60 and xGF/60, but again, he has consistently posted numbers like this over his career, so it may not be as much a concern as for others.
His xGA/60 is good for 40th best in the league, and only trailed the team’s shutdown trio of Zach Aston-Reese (led the NHL), Brandon Tanev, and Teddy Blueger on the Penguins.
While he wasn’t much of a puck-driving force, he tilted the ice where it mattered, on the score sheet. His GF% was fourth best on the team, and good for 71st in the league.
At just 24-years old, there is still room to grow, but McCann has shown the capabilities of being able to play the role of third-line shutdown center, with enough upside to be an offensive driving force.
The question now may be, who is McCann going to play with? So much of the lineup seems set in stone, that includes the top-six and the fourth line, leaving who plays with McCann a question mark.
Who plays on the third line?
The most obvious candidate to play with McCann is Patric Hornqvist, who enjoyed a bounce back season this past year, scoring 0.32 goals-per-game after recording just 0.26 per-contest the previous season.
Hornqvist is an eight-time 20-goal scorer in his career, but has failed to reach that mark in each of the last two years. If he can find some of that old magic, he is a perfect addition to the third line.
But does he fit in with McCann? I dug through McCann’s WOWY numbers (with or without you) with some of the candidates that could be played on the third line.
Is WOWY good enough to find a line mate?
While WOWY is a neat stat that can show how a player is impacted statistically when paired with someone else, you have to be careful as the sample size is almost never enough to give a proper assessment.
Some play enough on the ice at the same time to make a proper judgement, others barely enough to find any working chemistry that the numbers are better off thrown in the trash.
Regardless, it was fun to see who, if any, might be a good fit to move around to play on a line with McCann.
You can already see how the numbers might be a little deceiving, as McCann played more than twice the minutes without Hornqvist on the ice as he did with him.
The sample size withstanding, the pairs expected goal share is very encouraging should they start the season together, especially if you factor in that McCann has a history of performing better than expected.
Who else could McCann find himself on a line with? He also spent some added time on a line with Tanev and Bryan Rust last season, although after a breakout season the latter will has found a permanent spot on the top-six going forward.
Small sample size again, but they posted positive goal rate and possession numbers together. The issue is I’m not even sure McCann could maintain that kind of luck with such a wide difference in expected goal share.
Tanev also really came alive once thrown on the fourth line with Blueger and ZAR to create the team’s go-to defensive line.
What if Kapanen struggles on the wing with Crosby? McCann has played with the Penguins’ captain before, but how has that gone?
You can look at this one of two ways. In a larger sample size, their expected goal share should take over at some point, especially since you are talking about Sidney Crosby here.
Or you can take it for at its worth, and the pairings 42.31% goal-share isn’t worth keeping together. It’s hard to imagine someone with the puck-luck that McCann has, along with his willingness to shoot the puck can struggle so much on a line with Crosby, but that’s what the numbers say.
That’s the fun part with the analytics. It creates debate that wasn’t there before.
An other option for the Penguins would be Samuel Poulin, another first round pick. The rookie could be looked at for a roster spot as the Penguins try to go younger and faster.
The 21st overall pick in 2019 scored 32 goals and registered 77 points in 46 games with the Sherbrooke Phoenix of the QMJHL this past season.
With the Penguins expected to be up against the salary cap again this season, Poulin would be a great fit on the roster with a huge upside. Having a strong-defensive presence at center can also help the transition for Poulin.
No matter how the third line shapes out, based on what the Penguins have available to them, you could start off a lot worse than a 24-year old two-way forward who is starting to find his offensive game.
What are your thoughts on the McCann contract? What kind of role do you see for McCann, not only this season, but in the future? Let me know in the comment section below, and follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy.