Iain MacIntyre: Better the wing than a prayer for McCann

 

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks' Jared McCann, right, checks San Jose Sharks' Dainius Zubrus, of Lithuania, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday March 3, 2016.
 

Vancouver Canucks' Jared McCann, right, checks San Jose Sharks' Dainius Zubrus, of Lithuania, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday March 3, 2016.

Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, Vancouver Sun

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Jared McCann is listening.

When Danny Sedin said a couple weeks ago that young Vancouver Canuck players needed to realize how difficult it is to play in the National Hockey League and urged them to work harder and win their puck battles, he could have been talking about McCann.

When veteran winger Radim Vrbata talked about the incredible opportunities available to young players now, and the privilege of being bestowed things like power-play time, he could have been talking about McCann.

When coach Willie Desjardins talks about young players needing to prove they belong in the NHL and competing now for lineup spots next season, he could be talking about McCann.

“You take everything to heart from guys who have been in the league,” the 19-year-old rookie centre said before playing for the Canucks against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. “It’s tough to hear, but it lights a fire under you and you want to continue to work.

“Next year it’s a fresh year, and I think that’s a good thing. This year didn’t exactly go the way I hoped it would. So I’m going to put the work in this summer and come back next year to make the team.”

He has up to six more games this season to help himself and, interestingly, he’ll probably spend most of them playing on the wing.

The 2014 first-round draft pick, the Canucks’ key acquisition in the trade that sent Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks, McCann has been a centre all of his hockey life.

After last month’s trade for Markus Granlund, who returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing seven games with an upper-body injury, it’s pretty easy to project Canuck centres for next season: Henrik Sedin, Bo Horvat, Brandon Sutter and Granlund.

Where does that leave McCann? Probably needing to adapt or perish.

We’re not saying he won’t be a very good centre at some point, but it looks increasingly like his short-term route to the NHL will be near the boards and outside the faceoff circle.

Just because he made the Canucks as a 19-year-old, doesn’t mean he’ll be playing on the team at age 20 when the minor-league Utica Comets are a development option. It’s the same thing with 19-year-old rookie winger Jake Virtanen. Had the teenagers, the Canucks’ youngest players in more than a decade, been old enough to play in the American Hockey League, they probably would have been sent there for large tracts of this season.

Nobody’s hands are tied next year.

“You’ve got be versatile,” McCann agreed. “If you want to stay in the lineup, you’ve got to learn to adapt. It’s not my natural position, not something I’ve done a lot. But having guys on this team who have played wing their whole lives, I just try to be a sponge and take in as much as I can. You’ve got to be a versatile player if you want to be in the NHL. I’ve got to switch it up.”

The organization has made it clear that McCann needs to get physically stronger for the NHL, especially handling three-on-three defensive-zone responsibilities as a centre. Moving him to the wing, simplifies defensive duties and slightly eases the physical requirements.

“As a centre, you’ve got to cover the whole ice,” he explained. “As a winger, you stay focused on your area. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is trying to get pucks off the wall and into the middle, it’s not as easy as it looks.”

Neither are faceoffs.

With a faceoff record of 181-340, McCann’s 34.7 per cent success rate is dead last in the NHL among players who have taken at least 150 draws. He has been so poor some nights that Desjardins has been unable to start McCann in the defensive zone.

With this, too, playing the wing helps.

“I’ve had some games when I haven’t even won a faceoff,” McCann said disbelievingly. “It’s really frustrating.”

After scoring five times in his first nine games, which convinced the Canucks to keep McCann rather than return him to Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario League, McCann has three goals and 11 points in his last 55 games. He has been healthy-scratched 11 times.

Asked if he’d keep McCann again given a do-over, Desjardins said Tuesday: “You don’t know what happens if you send him back (to junior). That’s a total unknown. We kept him … knowing we could watch him. I think he’s played better lately. I think ever since he went to the wing, I think he has played better.”

Better the wing than a prayer at centre.

imacintyre@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/imacvansun

 
 
 
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Vancouver Canucks' Jared McCann, right, checks San Jose Sharks' Dainius Zubrus, of Lithuania, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday March 3, 2016.
 

Vancouver Canucks' Jared McCann, right, checks San Jose Sharks' Dainius Zubrus, of Lithuania, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday March 3, 2016.

Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, Vancouver Sun

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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