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From The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jared McCann: Penguins X-Factor

Is Jared McCann a center or left-winger? That is a question Pittsburgh Penguins fans and the organization have been asking themselves since he was acquired in 2019. He’s played a bit in both of those roles and has shown flashes of being capable in a top 6 role. He also at times has been pigeonholed into playing in a bottom 6 role with players who, quite frankly, are like an anchor for McCann in that they limit his production. So, what do we make of Jared McCann? How important is he to the Penguins success? Let’s talk about it.

Undefined Role

Jared McCann recently returned to the lineup from injury and was put on Evgeni Malkin’s left wing. He scored a goal in his first game back and seemed to acclimate himself very well. Just as we have seen time and time again, before he could gain any traction he was asked to move to a center role when Sidney Crosby was placed on the COVID protocol list. He promptly recorded an assist centering a line with Kasperi Kapanen and Brandon Tanev on his wings.

His defensive work is an underrated part of his game. Maybe that is the biggest reason we see him circling back as a center. Figuring out exactly what role they want Jared McCann to have will be one of the first dominos to fall and could dictate how they approach the trade deadline. If they view McCann as their third-line center, the team could opt to look for a top 6 winger on the trade market. If they view McCann as a winger (and one who can play with Malkin), they may look for center options. Not having Jason Zucker for the foreseeable future plays into this as well.

Jared McCann flies under the radar for Pens fans because he’s typically on a line with lackluster talent. He started out this season playing with Mark Jankowski and Colton Sceviour. If that’s who he is playing with, he isn’t going to sniff the 20 goal threshold he is capable of. He seems to have found some chemistry playing with Kasperi Kapanen, and in the process, may be able to jumpstart Kapanen himself.

Surround Him With Talent

If the Pens want to get the most out of McCann, he needs to play with players capable of contributing on offensive. You need to have him in a scoring role as opposed to playing on a shut down/checking line. McCann has a very underrated shot. While he is a decent playmaker, I’d prefer he have a shoot-first approach.

So how important is Jared McCann? I think the answer is he’s as important as the team lets him be. It’s all about the role this team puts him in. He himself is capable of sliding up and down this lineup. That type of versatility adds value in itself. Very few players are capable of playing a center or wing role in a top 6 or bottom 6 capacity. Jared McCann is one of those guys. We shall see where McCann falls in the team’s plans, but what we do know is the soon-to-be 25-year-old gives the Penguins options.