Jared McCann’s Impressive Start

Jared McCann's Impressive Start
Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins are about a quarter of the way through the regular season and have had some impressive play out of a lot of players thus far.

Perhaps no one has been more impressive than Jared McCann.

His 7 goals ranks 2nd on the team behind Jake Guentzel’s 9 and his 12 points has him firmly planted in a tie for 3rd with Kris Letang, 4 fewer than Guentzel’s 16 and 5 off of Crosby’s count of 17.

Since February 1, 2019 (when he and Bjugstad were acquired from the Panthers in exchange for Brassard and Sheahan), only Sidney Crosby (18G-41A-59P) and Jake Guentzel (25G-20A-45P) have recorded more points than Jared McCann.

It should be noted that he’s played 18 more games for the Penguins than 4th place Phil Kessel (27 points in 32 games), 6th place Kris Letang (26 points), and 7th place Bryan Rust (21 points) as well as 23 more than Evgeni Malkin (5th most – 26 points), but the fact remains that Jared McCann has come in and been about as good as you could ask for.

It should also be noted that conventional wisdom suggests that he will not continue to shoot at 17.3% in all situations as he has the previous 50 games, nor should we expect him to continue to score on 21.9% of his shots as he has in 18 games this season.

Part of that can be attributed to the inherent variance involved in scoring goals in the NHL, but another part of that stems from where exactly the shots are coming from both off of his stick (isolated below) and while he is on the ice (second graphic below), via HockeyViz.com:

Jared McCann's Impressive Start

Jared McCann's Impressive Start

What you see here is that the Penguins overall offensive Threat with McCann is below average at -6% (individually) and -5% (on-ice) relative to that of the rest of the league.  This is largely due to him not getting enough looks from the high danger areas of the ice in the low-to-mid-slot, illustrated by the blue bands above.

To further this, his individual numbers at 5-on-5 per hour of play track out similarly too among the 17 forwards that have seen time for the Penguins this season, via Natural Stat Trick.

Jared McCann – 5v5 Rate (per 60 minutes) Penguins Rank
Individual Expected Goals 0.55 12th
Individual Scoring Chances 7.00 9th
Individual High Danger Chances 1.68 15th

While some of that is less than ideal, it absolutely should not be taken as a negative.  Because for Jared McCann currently, he’s performing well above expectation, which is important for a Penguins team that has had just 6 games where both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have played.

In other words, Jared McCann is stepping the hell up.


Via Evolving-Hockey‘s Goals Above Replacement model, McCann’s 8.9 Goals Above Replacement and 1.5 Wins Above Replacement this season are both tied for 3rd with Brad Marchand.  That tracks out higher than names like Leon Draisaitl (8.6 GAR), Artemi Panarin (6.4 GAR), and Connor McDavid (6.2 GAR).

But while the puck may be going in a little bit more than you would expect it to otherwise with McCann on the ice given where the shots and chances are coming from (the Penguins are shooting at 16.36% at 5v5 with McCann on the ice, the highest shooting percentage of any forward), it’s everything else McCann and the Penguins are doing where the impressive nature of his season shines through.

Referencing back to McCann’s isolate above, you’ll see that his individual impact defensively protects and insulates the Penguins, particularly in the slot at evens, represented by the blue bands (i.e. fewer unblocked shot attempts are coming in from those areas).  Relative to the rest of the league, that comes out to a -10% Threat, meaning teams are doing less damage with McCann out there.

With McCann as part of a 5-man unit, it really shows up too (via HockeyViz.com):

Jared McCann's Impressive Start

Relative to the rest of the league, teams just have not done anything with McCann on the ice for the Penguins.  In fact, the only places where teams are generating more unblocked shot attempts compared to that of the league average (red) show up in the lowest of low danger areas of the ice.

This is a huge development.

We see this relative to the rest of the team, too.

Jared McCann's Impressive Start

While the Penguins have generated more unblocked shot attempts (4.62), scoring chances (1.74), high danger chances (2.15), and expected goals (0.23) with McCann off the ice per hour of play, it’s the suppression game where he’s shined.

With McCann on the ice, the Penguins are giving up less of everything across the board compared to when he’s off of it.  They and he have been blanketing teams.

And that overwhelming defensive approach pays dividends in the end.  The Penguins smother teams, coming out with a +4.11% share of unblocked attempts, +5.02% share of scoring chances, +7.97% share of high danger chances, and +8.42% share of the expected goals with McCann on the ice.

In other words, with McCann on the ice, the Penguins are dominating play this season at 5v5.

Given that information, you’d probably expect him to find himself at or near the top across the board in every major data bucket publicly available among those same 17 Pens forwards that have played this season.

Your expectation would be correct.

Jared McCann – 5v5 Percent Share Forward Rank
Shot Attempts 54.20% 7th
Unblocked Shot Attempts 58.04% 2nd
Shots On Goal 56.12% 4th
Goals 81.82% 1st
Expected Goals 63.23% 3rd
Scoring Chances 59.09% 3rd
High Danger Chances 64.81% 2nd

So, while the Penguins may not be generating a ton offensively with McCann at 5v5, they are still scoring goals at an insane clip and, perhaps equally important, they are dictating play.  That rate of goal scoring is likely not going to be replicated long term, but what should be easily replicated is their ability to control every other facet of the game with McCann on the ice.

This is particularly important on the defensive side of the puck should the Penguins move on from Nick Bjugstad and let McCann take the reins as the Heir to the 3C Crown.

And if the first 214+ minutes of play this season are any indication, it would appear that the Penguins have something special in Jared McCann (and probably what they thought they were getting in Brandon Sutter).

That is: a really damn good player.

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