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Jared McCann is answering a lot of big questions

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He is not only showing his post-trade performance was not a fluke, he is getting better in every area.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Jared McCann was one of the players on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ roster that I had some questions about before the season. He was one of the players that seemed to be stuck in some sort of a middle ground that could swing the season one way or another depending on how they played and developed. Through the first 15 games McCann has not only played at a level that has helped swing the season in a positive direction, he has been one of the more valuable players on the roster.

My question for McCann was simple: Would he be able to duplicate his post-trade production over a full season?

There was no denying that he made a big impact after coming over in the Derick Brassard/Riley Sheahan trade (and I still argue he was THE key piece in that trade and that taking Nick Bjugstad’s contract was the fee for getting him) with 11 goals and 17 points in only 32 games. But a lot of that production was driven by a fairly high shooting percentage (15.3 percent) and a ton of empty net goals. Now, I do not look down on empty-net goals as a bad thing because being on the ice in that situation says a lot about what your coaching staff thinks of you as a defensive player. It is an opportunity that is earned, and McCann took advantage of it. But you can’t rely on that to drive your production over an 82-game season, and I just wanted to see what would happen if/when that shooting percentage regressed and he wasn’t getting a ton of empty-net goals.

So far, he is exceeding every expectation that might have existed for him.

As of Monday McCann has five goals and 10 points in 15 games and is currently on a 27-goal, 54-point pace with a 54 percent shot attempt share when he is on the ice. He still has a shooting percentage that is on the high side (19 percent), but even if that regresses he should still be able to maintain a 20-plus goal pace. He does have the kind of shot that might be able to sustain a higher than average percentage. So even if he ends up as a 20-goal, 50-point forward those are numbers you absolutely sign up for with a player still on an entry-level contract.

Especially when you take into account the other side of his value — he has been one of the best defensive players on the team.

Check out the numbers, all via Natural Stat Trick:

Corsi Percentage: 54 percent (8th on team)
Shot attempts against per 60 minutes: 42.07 (first on team)
Shots on goal against per 60 minutes: 23.7 (third on team)
Scoring chances against per 60 minutes: 15.6 (first on team)
High-Danger scoring chances against per 60 minutes: 5.01 (first on team)
Expected goals against per 60 minutes: 1.20 (first on team)
Goals against per 60 minutes: 1.34 (third on team)

That is all pretty, pretty, pretty good, and when combined with the offense that is the look of one hell of a middle-six forward.

No matter what happens with Bjugstad that is looking like a trade that has a chance to be a pretty significant win for the Penguins.

We have been critical of Jim Rutherford for a couple of years now (usually justified) but we try to be fair, and this is a move that is turning out to be worthy of significant praise. McCann is still only 23 years old and is giving them a cheap option up front that is adding some much-needed depth, both offensively and defensively. He is quickly going from “preseason question mark and unknown” to “regular season impact player.”

That is the type of progression and development the Penguins needed if they were going to get back to being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

McCann may not be one of the most talented players on the team or a key part of the core, but players like him (talented, productive, young, still on an entry-level contract) can often times the difference between ordinary and greatness because of the depth they can provide.