Why Jared McCann has a realistic shot of breaking camp with the Canucks

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Photo Credit: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver Canucks prospect Jared McCann, 19, has turned heads with his performance during the first week of training camp. The 24th-overall pick at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft won’t turn 20 until May, but he’s been perhaps Vancouver’s best player in the preseason – and really, he’s stood out since he throttled the competition at an early training camp scrimmage in Prince George.

There’s no doubt that McCann’s performance bodes well for his future as an NHL player, but does the 19-year-old centre have a legitimate shot at cracking the club’s opening day roster? 

Let’s recap what McCann has done so far before we proceed. The 19-year-old has now appeared in two preseason games so far, the 4-0 loss at home to the San Jose Sharks last week and Saturday night’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames. I covered the game against the Sharks live and in-person, and McCann’s defensive game stuck out to me. Though it was a preseason contest being played at what we might generously describe as half pace, McCann wasn’t cheating for offense, and was always on the right side of the puck. 

That McCann was diligent in taking care of his own end augers well, I’d think, for his chances of getting even a nine-game cup of coffee with the Canucks. Pretty much everyone in the NHL has skill for days, but if you can’t play without the puck, you’re going back to junior (or to the AHL). 

On Saturday McCann followed up on being the standout Canuck in the preseason home opener with another dynamic outing, recording two primary assists including this beauty touch-pass to Bo Horvat:

(Courtesy: Sportsnet, via r/Canucks)

The offense is nice, but as we’ve mentioned, the mature defensive game is going to be key for McCann’s hopes of actually seeing NHL action this season. 

And to McCann’s credit he has driven play. It’s just the preseason and this sample is tiny, so don’t put too much weight into it, but the 2014 first-round pick has been on the ice for 20 Canucks shot attempts at 5-on-5 in his two preseason outings and only eight against, according to hockeystats.ca. That’s a Corsi For percentage above 70, which doesn’t mean much, but is part of what a 19-year-old NHL hopeful can do to make sending him back to major junior a difficult decision for management. 

There are some qualifiers here. While McCann has played a well-rounded game and seems to have a feel for the defensive part of the centre position that’s well beyond his years, the club has been reluctant to put him in defensive situations. Against the Sharks, McCann took just one defensive zone draw (he took two more at 4-on-5, and lost all four defensive zone faceoffs he took in that contest), and against the Flames he took zero. 

In total McCann has taken 13 faceoffs in preseason action, winning only five. Faceoffs aren’t everything, but the Canucks struggled enormously in this area last season, and if McCann can’t hold his own, then that would seem to work against him in his effort to win an NHL job as a teenager.

Competition

In breaking down whether or not McCann has a hope of making the opening night roster, we have to look at the competition he faces. Following the latest round of cuts on Monday, the Canucks currently have 17 healthy forwards still at camp. 

11 of those healthy forwards are on one-way contracts, though Ronalds Kenins won’t require waivers should the club opt to reassign him, and his cap hit is low enough that the club also won’t incur any penalties should he begin the season in the AHL. So he’s sort of a nominal one-way guy. Still if we consider Bo Horvat a shoe-in to make the team, which we should, the number 11 remains instructive.

If we assume that the club will carry 13 forwards on their opening night roster, which seems likely, though they could also decide to carry 14 forward depending on what do with their blue line, McCann has to outlast five remaining forwards for one of the final two spots. Those five forwards: Adam Cracknell, Ronalds Kenins, Brendan Gaunce, Jake Virtanen and Alexandre Grenier. 

Considering that list of contenders for the final two forward spots, the possibility of McCann making the opening night roster seems downright doable. Basically every player that McCann is competing with except for Virtanen – who like McCann can’t play in the AHL until the completion of their Major Junior season this year – is either waiver exempt, or carries minimal risk of being claimed. 

McCann will have to continue to impress, of course, if he’s going to earn even a nine-game look. 

One sign that the Canucks are seriously considering the possibility by the way (even in light of McCann’s struggles in the faceoff circle), is that they plan on giving McCann an opportunity to play left wing in Monday night’s preseason game against the Arizona Coyotes:

(I have a pet theory, by the way, that McCann’s game may be better suited to the wing, based mostly on his physical play and the ridiculous power of his wrist shot).

Anyway if McCann can continue to perform the way we’ve seen through the first week and change of training camp, you’d have to think he’s got a realistic shot of breaking camp with the Canucks.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated in light of Alex Friesen and Blair Jones being reassigned to Utica.

  • Is any team doing their prospects a favour by putting them in the league before they’ve physically matured? I think McCann could bulk up and doing so would be a good thing before having him line up against guys like Milan Lucic. Guys like Gaudreau are older and aren’t getting any bigger but if Linden Vey can go from 185 to 200 in one off-season, I’m sure McCann would benefit from growing from 178 to 190+.

  • Steampuck

    I remember reading that McCann had a ridiculously high VO2 max during his draft tests. This excites me—maybe it hits home in other endurance sports, but it’s a sign that he’s a rare athlete, which bodes well for his future. If he’s also smart and responsible, I’d be curious to see what he can offer, though I hope we keep him at centre.

  • Steampuck

    If I were coach, I would start the season off conservatively, with experienced NHLers in the lineup and prospects in Utica. The beginning of the season is jittery enough without adding complications. One might be able to steal a few extra games from teams who are trying to adjust to a lot of lineup changes.

    After a month, I would bring in one or two prospects based on weaknesses in the Canucks lineup and how well the prospects are doing in the minors. After Christmas I might do it again.

  • Steampuck

    There would be nothing wrong with lining him up on wing for face offs then having him assume centre responsibilities after the draw. And to Nick (#3 above) it worked for Horvat, why not McCann? Plus there is the 9 game audition thing

    • Steampuck

      Horvat was/is 200+ lbs and built like a tank. McCann is 178 lbs and has a history of injury. One solid hit from Nikita Zhuldikov (6’3″, 209 lbs) this summer rattled McCann’s cage and injured his shoulder.

      Guys are still fighting for roster spots around the league, the risk of being on the receiving end of a cheap hit is pretty high. NHL Player Safety is not protecting players, as evidenced by the lack of appropriate punishment in the last few years.

      Unless you’re supremely skilled like Connor McDavid or physically mature like Aaron Ekblad (6’4″, 216 lbs), you’re probably better off building your confidence and skillset against appropriate opponents.

  • wojohowitz

    Great call on McCann`s wrist shot. That`s why Shinkaruk was sent down – he wasn`t picking the corners but instead hitting the crest. Confidence hits the post and in.