Canucks rookie Jared McCann better be prepared to wing it … or else

 

 
 
 
 
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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VANCOUVER — When Danny Sedin said a couple of weeks ago about young Canuck players needing 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 Jared McCann.

When veteran winger Radim Vrbata talked about the incredible opportunity available to young players now, and the privilege of being given things like power-play time, he could have been talking about Jared 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,” McCann, the 19-year-old rookie centre, said after skating this morning to prepare for tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks. “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.”

But he’s got up to seven more games this season to help himself and, interestingly, he’ll probably spend most of it 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 is a natural centre who hadn’t played the wing before he got to Vancouver.

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

Where does that leave McCann?

Needing to adapt or perish.

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 is a development option for him.

“You’ve got be versatile,” McCann said. “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 had made it clear that McCann needs to get physically stronger to handle the three-on-three defensive-zone responsibilities as a centre. So moving him to the wing simplifies defensive duties and slightly eases the physical burden.

“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 faceoffs. 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. “It’s really frustrating.”

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

Asked if he’d make the same decision on McCann if given a do-over, Desjardins said: “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.”

No one’s saying McCann doesn’t have a future with the Canucks. But it may be on the wing instead of at centre.

After beating the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 Monday at home, the Sharks did not skate this morning at Rogers Arena.

Jacob Markstrom starts in goal for the Canucks, whose 0-7-1 losing streak is their longest in more than seven years. James Reimer is expected to start for the Sharks.

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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