The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds are one of the most forward-thinking and progressive hockey organizations on the planet. Under the leadership of young GM (and friend-of-the-blogosphere) Kyle Dubas, the Hounds have quickly vaulted to the top of the OHL standings, finishing this past year 4th in points in a brutal Western Conference.
Dubas and coach Sheldon Keefe place a great deal of value on analytics, and track Corsi, zone starts, and zone entry stats in order to gain a better understanding of what meaningful contributions their players make over the course of a full season.
There is no one better to give a detailed, analytic-focused breakdown of Canucks 1st round pick and Greyhounds centre Jared McCann than Kyle Dubas himself. After reaching out to Canucks Army to address some of our concerns with the selection of McCann, Dubas generously agreed to answer a few questions we had about McCann and help Canucks fans gain a better understanding of the 17-year old kid who will hopefully turn into the centrepiece of the Ryan Kesler trade. You’re going to like what you hear.
1) From looking at HockeyDB, it appears as if McCann was your #1 centre, with the inference that he played the majority of his 5v5 time with 91-point Sergey Tolchinsky. Is this accurate? Who were McCann’s most frequent linemantes this past season? In what ways did McCann help Tolchinsky relative to someone like Tyler Gaudet?
Last season, Jared spent the majority of his time on the ice with veteran winger Andrew Fritsch. Jared would have played significantly more games without Tolchinsky on his line than with him. Our forwards were largely grouped in pairs with McCann-Fritsch, Watling-Gaudet, Tolchinsky-Miller as the main pairings. Very late in the regular season and playoffs Tolchinsky joined the McCann-Fritsch pair.
Tolchinsky played less than 5 games with Gaudet, so it’s tough to compare how Jared helped him relative to Tyler. What Jared did was force teams to use one of their top two lines against him and the Gaudet line. This allowed us to play Tolchinsky-Miller, Speers and Michael Bunting versus the oppositions so-called bottom 6 where we found a great advantage.
Background on Andrew Fritsch: he’s an overage right winger that was a 6th round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2006. He’s hovered around a point per game since his draft year, and this season was no different. See his OHL stats here.
2) In what role(s) was McCann deployed? Did he see mostly offensive zone duty, or was he a defensive zone specialist? Did he see significant PP or PK responsibility? Did Sheldon Keefe make an effort to play him against the other team’s best players?
Jared was deployed in the role of a top line centre. His offensive zone start rate was the 4th lowest on our team at 56% offensive zone starts (behind just Jean Dupuy, Patrick Watling and Tyler Gaudet). He played versus the oppositions 1st or 2nd line. Tyler Gaudet was voted the best defensive centre in the league in the OHL Coaches vote so at home Sheldon would often deploy Gaudet versus the opposition’s best line, and on the road that duty would fall on Jared as coaches tried to free their best players from playing versus Gaudet, who was a 20 year old. Jared, as just a 17 year did an excellent job in that regard, as his possession numbers illustrate.
Jared saw duty on the PP and PK both and was our best faceoff man, as well. On the PP Jared was used on his off wing to take advantage of his elite shot.
3) You mentioned strong zone entry numbers. Sheldon Keefe seems to be a forward thinking coach, so are these numbers due to Sault Ste. Marie’s system emphasizing carry-ins and aggressive play at the bluelines, or is McCann uniquely good at winning the neutral zone? How do his ZE numbers compare to his teammates (and the rest of the OHL, if you have those stats)?
Jared’s controlled zone entry rate was 70% this season which was behind just Bryan Moore (77%), Tolchinsky (73%) and Watling (71%). Obviously, the style of play utilized and coached by Sheldon lends itself to high controlled zone entry numbers but being able to execute that style and not reverting to old habits requires speed, skill and game intelligence to make plays through the neutral zone. To that end, I would say Jared’s ability match up so well with the system taught and put in place by Sheldon. On the defensive side, Jared’s controlled zone entry against rate was 49%, 2nd on the team to Fritsch (48%). Collaborating the totals in both regards paints the picture of a terrific neutral zone player for you.
4) What role do you see McCann fulfilling at the NHL level? Who would you compare his style of play to? Do you believe he has the offensive upside to turn in to a Ryan O’Reilly or Patrice Bergeron-type 2-way top-6 centre? Or do you believe the majority of his utility be on the defensive side of the puck?
If Jared can maximize his potential he’s a top 2 line NHL Centre. A lot of him reaching his potential has to do with his physical maturation. He’s a guy who is essentially NHL average height but 30 pounds below average weight. When I watch Jared play I am reminded a lot of Ryan O’Reilly and Logan Couture. I’m most comfortable comparing to O’Reilly and Couture because I also watched them before Major Junior, throughout their career in the OHL and then into the NHL. Bergeron I only saw at the World Juniors and then in Boston so relating to his development is not as easy.
Logan Couture scored 78 points in 54 games as a 17-year old, before regressing to 58 points in 51 games the next season. Couture rounded back into form as a 19-year old and was scoring at a 1.26 pts/GP pace as a 20-year old in the AHL with Worcester. O’Reilly on the other hand scored 66 points in 68 games with the Erie Otters, and made the jump to the NHL at 18. McCann’s boxcars lag behind these two players so far, but he was the #1 centreman on a significantly better team.
5) After adjusting scoring rate of recent 1st round picks for age and era, McCann’s boxcars compare most closely to Nick Foligno and Alex Burmistrov among OHLers. Do you think that McCann has more to give offensively in junior? Why might McCann’s offensive upside be higher than the players he most closely compares to?
This is a simple answer for me and is a resounding yes. Jared showed utter dominance at times (games with 4 goals, 5 points, etc.) and then stretches of games where he was held off the score sheet. During the season, it appeared to me that Jared so concerned about defence and being above the puck that he was extremely conservative with his jumping high into the rush. That was something that Sheldon and Jared spent a lot of time on and I know that Sheldon has spent a lot of the off-season watching to figure out how Jared’s offensive dominance could become more consistent.
Jared also missed the net with his individual shot attempts more than anyone on our team by a wide margin. I would equate it to a young pitcher with just electric stuff that deals with control issues early in his career. He is one of the rare prospects in this draft that could flat out beat a goalie with his wrist shot from just inside the blue line regularly. As he works on his shooting accuracy, which he will tell you is a major priority, his numbers are going to drastically improve. His highlight reel from the past season shows what he is capable of with regards to end to end tantalizing offensive play when at his best.
The other thing that hinders Jared (and all of our centres production) is the system we deploy in the defensive zone. The centres must come very low (to the goalie) to provide the D a controlled option low in the zone. He cannot cheat ever or leave the zone, thus you will never see him slide behind the opposition D for easy chances and often has the puck with 5 members of the opposition in front of him versus 2 or 3 if he got the breakout pass from the winger off the wall as many others do.
6) According to ExtraSkater, McCann was tied for 32nd among 2014 draft eligibles in even strength points with 32. Is this representative of the season he had offensively? Did he suffer from poor shooting luck at all? How can he improve these totals going forward?
The numbers are the numbers, they don’t lie. Jared will be the first to say, as I have seen him say quite often to the press, that he was not happy with his offensive production. As detailed above as he asserts himself up in the play and hits the net more, you’re going to see his offensive totals really take off. Sheldon has spent a lot of his off-season breaking down every single shift Jared had at even strength and has a plethora of development areas which will only add to Jared’s offensive prowess and be really exciting to watch.
7) How does his Corsi% of 57.9% compare to the rest of the Greyhounds? To the rest of the OHL? Can you speak to how these skills may translate at the NHL level?
Jared’s outright Corsi was best amongst our forwards (+259 total) and behind only Darnell Nurse and Kyle Jenkins on our team overall. Objectively, we have been tracking these numbers for just 3 seasons internally and so being able to make any certain statements about how major junior possession numbers help project what a player is going to be able to accomplish at the NHL level is still unwritten. Subjectively, I believe Jared’s shot attempt and zone entry data paint a very promising picture of his ability.
In the NHL, you often see media bemoan players who have what they deem as average offensive totals (Grabovski comes to mind) but more analytical types really value what those players bring. I think that has same scenario has seen Jared been deemed a “safe” pick by some over the past few days. Meanwhile, analytics show how great of a player Jared was for us. I realize those numbers aren’t public knowledge (they are proprietary, though gleaned through public events). Which is why we felt it was important to share some of that data with the most passionate of the Canucks fan base to help present what Jared can truly bring.
8) What are your expectations of McCann for next year and the rest of his OHL career? Why do you think he can take significant steps forward in his offensive game as soon as next season?
We believe and Jared believes that he will take major steps forward next season and the rest of his OHL career. He has all of the tools to become one of the league’s premier centres as soon as this season should he maximize his summer strength and conditioning program and Sheldon works to incorporate new habits and traits into Jared’s game which will best allow him to take advantage of his vast offensive potential.
So there you have it, a glowing review of Jared McCann from his own OHL GM. There are some very exciting nuggets of information there, including comparisons to Logan Couture and Ryan O’Reilly, references to high-end tools, and most importantly solid evidence to suggest that McCann is a large part of the motor that drives a very good Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds team. Kyle Dubas also thinks that McCann has far more to give offensively, and there is no other CHL program I’d rather have handling the development of a top-end forward prospect than the Hounds. They emphasize creativity and puck possession, while trying to stomp out bad habits like reflexively dumping the puck in instead of making plays.
At the time of the selection, the information that we had available to us suggested that McCann was a riskier selection with lower overall upside than guys like Nikolay Goldobin, Josh Ho-Sang, and Ivan Barbashev. Learning new information changes this outlook somewhat, as we learned that McCann does other things – things that we don’t and can’t know that the other guys do – that really help teams win. Still, none of this matters if McCann doesn’t develop, and where he goes in the next 2-3 years will be crucial to his long-term NHL projection. I’m more positive about McCann today than I was on Friday.
If Jared McCann does project to reach Logan Couture-like levels of success, he will have to become an elite scorer for his age group at some point before he gets to the NHL. A Bo Horvat-like jump to the ballpark of 1.4 pts/GP will be very encouraging next year and probably not an unreasonable increase in offense to ask for, although you’d still like to see a bit more than that. Remember, if we’re saying the ceiling of McCann is comparable to Ryan O’Reilly, we have to be cognizant of a couple of things: Ryan O’Reilly was never projected to become Ryan O’Reilly, and more talented players with better track records of success fail to reach that level all the time.
But for the time being, we have learned some really positive things about Jared McCann, and it looks more likely from our perspective that he may reach his ceiling than it did last Friday. Still, how McCann can grow his offensive game will go a long way towards determining if he has a top-6 or bottom-6 NHL potential, so it can be said that a big chunk of the Canucks‘ future is in the hands of Kyle Dubas, Sheldon Keefe, and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. And with their commitment to puck possession and offensive creativity without sacrificing a two-way game (side note: how refreshing is it to hear a hockey guy say something like “his defense is too good so we need him worrying less about his two-way game and more about offense”?), there are few organizations I’d rather have fostering a talent like McCann’s.
Once more, a big thank you to Kyle Dubas for generously taking the time to provide some really detailed answers to questions and concerns we had about Jared McCann. We at Canucks Army have been Greyhounds fans for a while because it’s excellent to see a team so openly embrace analytics like the Hounds have, and providing insight like this just re-affirms that they are a first-class organization. You can follow Kyle, McCann, rest of the Greyhounds on Twitter here: @KyleDubas, @jaredmccann19, @OHLHoundPower. Go Hounds!