Honesty, the best medicine, is how we open up our profile of Jared McCann.
When the Canucks took McCann 24th overall back in this past June’s draft, myself – and without putting words in their mouth’s, my peers on this platform – weren’t exactly the biggest fans of the selection. The thinking initially was that it eerily reeked of a typically “safe” Canucks pick.
After all, we’re talking about a franchise here that has managed to write itself a long and storied history over the last decade-plus of settling for players who should theoretically play in the National Hockey League, but realistically have a limited likelihood of ever actually blowing us out of the water and becoming impactful assets. The reservation and apprehension were duly justified in that regard.
But a few months have since passed, and there has been something of a recalibration that has taken place. There’s no shame in changing your tune as new information makes itself available, moulding your thought process accordingly. That’s where we’re at right now with Jared McCann.
I was admittedly less than enthused about the Jared McCann selection at the time, as the pick was announced on my television set. In the immediate aftermath of the pick, my response to the question of “who would you have picked instead?” was essentially “any of the four guys that just got taken after him?”
Those would be Nikita Scherbak, Nikolay Goldobin, and Josh Ho-Sang, all of whom scored at a higher rate in their draft year than McCann. The other would be David Pastrnak.
That’s wasn’t to quell Jared McCann’s projection as that of a fine two-way player, but on the surface he seemed like more of a less offensively refined Bo Horvat than anything else. Which isn’t exactly a terrible thing, but it also felt like a blatant missing of the plot.
We constantly preach this, but it bears repeating: when it comes to projecting talent, scoring upside should be paramount. You can teach an NHL-quality prospect to play defense or do other similar things on the ice, but something you can’t teach is the innate ability and talent that it takes to put the puck into the net.
As I’ve already alluded to, I’ve come around on Jared McCann as a prospect as the summer has gone along. For one, bias aside, I figure if Kyle Dubas is talking about something we should be listening. There’s a boatload of revealing nuggets in Dubas’ chat with Rhys re: McCann’s deployment last season and such, but what stood out for me was the point about his neutral zone capabilities:
“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.”
We’ll get to collectively know infinitely more on this subject after Corey Sznajder’s full season tracking is published (and more work gets released on the subject in general as our understanding and resources expand), but there’s no denying that the aforementioned skills are awfully conducive for future success.
Dubas went on to highlight Logan Couture and Ryan O’Reilly as possible comparisons for McCann. It goes without saying that both are already established, highly-regarded, two-way players, but they may also provide relevant tell-tales for someone like McCann.
Couture was (mostly) lights-out good as a junior player, and then dominated a half-season of AHL hockey before forcing his way into San Jose’s lineup two years after having been drafted. O’Reilly’s production in the OHL is actually more favourably comparable to that of McCann, though he managed to make the Avs right out of camp the following season. After some initial tribulations he has gone on to become a fantastic player.
At this point, there are two things that McCann needs to do to help position himself more aptly in that discussion: add some weight as he continues to develop physically (a reasonable goal for an 18-year old), and just as importantly, produce at a higher level. Both the player and his former GM appear to be readily aware of this. He’s shown he can play the game at a high level – getting himself drafted in the 1st round, an accomplishment in and of itself – and he has progressed nicely from year 1 to year 2 in his OHL career, but this season he needs to dominate.
What McCann already has going for him is his ability to play in his own end, against the opposition’s best. That’s something that coaches value greatly when doling out ice time to young players, which bodes well for McCann moving forward. For that reason, he stands a chance to earn ice time sooner than many of his peers.
It’s what he manages to do with that opportunity that will tell the story down the road. It’s hard to judge at this point, since he’s only had two seasons of junior hockey, but to understand how hard it is to project from a sample size such as his look at his scoring rate comps — just ahead of him are the likes of Radek Faksa, Benoit Pouliot, Ryan Getzlaf, Zack Kassian and Brendan Gaunce. Just behind him are Bo Horvat, Kyle Chipchura, Brandon Sutter, Curtis Lazar and Michael Grabner.
There’s a touch of gold, some valuable assets and a pile of question marks in that mix.
For his part, McCann seems to be embracing it all, setting rather lofty expectations for himself when bringing up the names “Bergeron” and “Toews”:
That’s a high target, but ambition is a plenty good thing. There’s one more player to consider when attempting to project as a comparison for McCann, and that’s Manny Malhotra.
Malhotra came up in a different era; one more populated by older, wiser players, plugging up larger areas of the ice. And he didn’t exactly Malhotra didn’t set endless scoring records for the Guelph Storm in his two seasons there. But what he did do was make himself a high draft pick, and convince John Muckler to keep him in the NHL as an 18-year old (*).
Of course, there was plenty of old-school thumping about what he’d get to learn from sitting next to Wayne Gretzky (not totally crazy, actually) but, the truth is that Malhotra played the whole season and didn’t embarrass himself. The guy could play. Maybe his career didn’t ultimately play out the way that he and the Rangers thought it would when he went 7th overall, but there’s hardly any shame in the decade-plus career he carved out for himself as a quality NHLer.
(*) Slight tangent: what a fascinating and weird team those ’98-’99 New York Rangers were. Was Alexei Kovalev traded for Chris Tamer? Yes, yes he was. Also, there’s a fun name as backup goalie. No, it’s not Glenn Healy.
Whether Jared McCann is eventually able to develop into the offensive player that Dubas indicated he’s capable of being – and that some of those comparables wound up becoming – remains to be seen, and that uncertainty is baked into his ranking here.
But his outlook shines markedly brighter than it did a few months ago. He’ll be given as good a chance as you could reasonably hope for to grow into one of those aforementioned players once he returns next season to a Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds squad that clearly has a good grasp of what it’s doing.