McCann better for his stay in Springfield

(Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

by Ryan Smith AHL On The Beat

At 21 years of age, Jared McCann has already undergone as many changes as a 10-year veteran may face in his entire career.

After being selected 24th overall by Vancouver in the 2014 NHL Draft, McCann made the Canucks out of training camp in 2015. He played in 69 National Hockey League games as a 19-year-old rookie, logging 18 points along the way.

On May 25, 2016, McCann’s career moved to the opposite corner of North America when he was traded to the Florida Panthers in a deal that sent defenseman Erik Gudbranson to Vancouver.

Just 19 at the time, McCann saw the warm-weather move as a chance to prove himself, ignoring any speculation to the rationale surrounding the trade.

“I saw (going to Florida) as a new start,” McCann reflected. “I felt like I had a pretty decent season in Vancouver, but when a team trades for you, they want you there, and they traded a pretty good player (Gudbranson) to get me.”

Photo: Springfield Thunderbirds

It was that attitude that McCann carried into the season. But after a trying start to his 2016-17 campaign, and in the midst of a Florida franchise undergoing highly publicized changes with the departure of head coach Gerard Gallant, a new test of adversity arrived in November when he was assigned to the Springfield Thunderbirds.

At 20 years old, and already with a year’s worth of NHL hockey under his belt, McCann’s first assignment to the AHL was an eye-opener.

“I was taken aback by it at first, but I took it as a challenge,” McCann said. “I took it as a learning experience; there’s been a lot of players in the NHL who have been sent down before.”

After being used sparingly in Florida, McCann was also aware of what time in Springfield could do for him.

“I’m the kind of guy that wants to play and show people that I can be a good hockey player and can play in the NHL,” McCann recalls, also recounting his own inner mentality. “(I said) ‘I’m going to go down there, I’m going to play a lot, and I’m going to get better and I’m going to come back up and show them I can play in the NHL.’”

Photo: Springfield Thunderbirds

Upon his arrival to Springfield, the second-year pro quickly learned what playing for a Geordie Kinnear-coached club would entail, despite having only met him briefly in the previous summer’s development camp.

“I knew (Geordie) was a high energy coach and had really tough practices – I got a taste of that at development camp, and I found out pretty quickly what type of guy he was and what he wanted out of his players,” said McCann, who noted how it did not take long to jell with his new coach. “I feel like we got along really well; he definitely helped my career, and because of that, today I’m back in the NHL because he gave me the opportunity to be a better player.”

McCann was the Thunderbirds’ hottest player down the stretch in 2017, scoring four goals in the season’s final two games, including a memorable hat trick in a 7-0 win over Bridgeport on the season’s penultimate day. His scorching finish showed the culmination of his half-season stay with Springfield under Kinnear’s tutelage.

“(Geordie and I) had talks every now and then about staying focused; if you want to be in the NHL, you have to be the hardest working guy every single day,” McCann said.  “You always want to stick out. You never want to be a guy who just goes with the flow or does the bare minimum just to fit in. I learned from Geordie that’s not the way it works, and you have to stick out, whether it’s getting better after practice or watching video. He instilled that in me and I feel like today, I’m still trying to do as much as I can to get better every single day.”

While his offensive exploits were plenty visible through his time in the OHL, McCann also credits both his head coaches – Kinnear in Springfield and Bob Boughner in Florida – for making him an asset in his own zone.

Photo: Springfield Thunderbirds

“Defense wins games, right?” McCann quipped. “That’s something I learned with Geordie in the AHL – honing in my skills defensively. I’ve been a guy in junior who could put the puck in the back of the net and was mostly a power play player. (Now in Florida), I’m penalty killing, I’m on the power play, and even down in Springfield, I was doing the exact same. It was an adjustment period for me, but now I feel more comfortable than ever doing whatever is asked of me, defensively and offensively.”

Still 21 and very much a young man in his NHL journey, McCann knows the road will not always be smooth. Despite an unexpected AHL detour a year ago, he now knows it was a necessary and critical step.

“(My development in the AHL) was huge. (Geordie) gave me the opportunity to play down there. I know I’m not going to be a perfect player; I don’t think anybody is,” McCann said. “Me being in the NHL today is because I was given that opportunity to develop and play. It wasn’t just a matter of being perfect every shift – you’re going to make mistakes, but it’s how you bounce back and come back and be a good player.”