During the run-up to the inevitable Phil Kessel trade, there was much consternation among Penguin fans. It was essentially, ‘how are you going to replace Phil’s 30 goals and point-per-game production?’
When the move to Arizona happened, there was rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. Naturally, Alex Galchenyuk is going to replace some of the production, but realistically, he won’t replace all of it.
Some of Jim Rutherford’s defenders of his recent string of puzzling moves have been saying that the team is getting younger and softly rebuilding while still contending. While it’s true that they are younger, simply being younger doesn’t guarantee you’re going to be better.
But the player that seems most poised to fill the Kessel goal-scoring void just happens to be the youngest projected forward on the roster — Jared McCann, age 23 this season. McCann came from Florida, along with Nick Bjugstad, in the Derick Brassard deal. Once McCann arrived in Pittsburgh, he proceeded to play 124 of his 486 minutes as a Penguin on the first line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. He rewarded the coaching staff’s faith by getting 11 goals and 6 assists in 32 games. Three of those goals were on the penalty kill.
McCann’s goals per game as a Penguin (0.34) and points per game (0.53) both were far and away career-bests. They both portend great potential numbers for the 2019-20 season. Extrapolating out those per game numbers over an 82-game season, he would produce 28 goals and 16 assists for 44 total points. The total points are a far cry from Kessel’s 80-90 points, but getting 28 goals from McCann would be just fine with all parties involved.
He has the pedigree associated with becoming a key player. McCann was a 1st round pick (24th overall) by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2014 NHL Draft. Interestingly, he was traded as part of a deal to get now-fellow teammate, Erik Gudbranson, in 2016 from Florida.
McCann didn’t see much time on the power play last season and doesn’t figure to be in the mix for much this year, so he’ll have to do the majority of his damage at even strength. The good news is that he’ll be doing it with one of the NHL’s premier playmakers and a fellow young gun 40-goal scorer on his line, thanks to the good chemistry that line produced at times.
Jared McCann is playing on a $1.25M salary this season and will then be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. It will be in his best financial interests to have a productive season, as well, so that he can potentially triple or quadruple his salary if he takes the leap to a high 20’s/low 30’s goal scorer. Lighting the red lamp gets you paid in the NHL.