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Scouting Report: Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann

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We break down the Penguins’ newest player haul and what it means for the team going forward.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Signs of Derick Brassard’s departure from Pittsburgh have been teased for the past couple months. As of this afternoon, general manager Jim Rutherford finally made it official, shipping out the same coveted 3C he acquired in a blockbuster trade last year with Riley Sheahan, a second round draft pick, and two fourth round draft picks in 2019 to the Florida Panthers in exchange for centers Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann.

Brassard, for whatever reason, never seemed to jell as the Penguins’ third line center. Whether it was the regressed role further down the lineup that discouraged him (even though he understood what he was coming into upon signing on the dotted line), or simply that he genuinely didn’t work with any of the team’s wingers, Brassard never found his footing in Pittsburgh. And with all the evidence within his regular and advanced stats proving that it was time to cut ties, Rutherford simply couldn’t carry the dead weight with another Stanley Cup run in the Crosby/Malkin era on his mind.

The addition of Sheahan in this deal and the fact that Rutherford managed to salvage the Penguins’ first round pick in this trade is definitely interesting, but it’s not all that suprising given what Pittsburgh got in return. He also brought in two players that are under contract for next season and only push the cap hit up $200,000 for two players on the cusp of their UFAs, so there’s ample room to bring in more talent. Rutherford managed to collect forward help without giving up a huge asset for players without term. The bold general manager may easily still have something else up his sleeve closer to the trade deadline since he hung onto that first round pick.

With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of what to expect from the new haul of players:

Bjugstad is a versatile player the Penguins have actually been eyeing up for years. Despite his underwhelming boxcars this season (five goals, seven helpers for 12 points in 32 games played) and his injury reputation, his size is something Rutherford wanted to use to upgrade the team with. He has tallied 20 goals in the past and recorded 19 last season, so he does seem to score in streaks. His numbers took a hit once he got supplanted for the more talented Vincent Trocheck, pushing him to the third line center role. Reports blamed his lack of scoring on his own, but some blamed the teammates he was paired with. He gets a fair amount of praise for his ability to win draws at the faceoff dot, since players McCann and Henrik Borgstrom often put up weak numbers inside the circles. He has also been utilized on both the wing and center.

Bjugstad has put up incredible puck possession numbers in his career (especially in transition and in one-on-one situations due to his ability to turn on the jets and use his long reach), dabbling in the 77th percentile in controlled zone entries and the 85th percentile in controlled zone exits. He also boasts a lot of potential inside the attacking zone and will likely create even more offense with more talented players around him than in Florida, especially when it comes to shot contributions. His wrist shot is powerful, but he often just hits opposing goalies in the logo rather than picking good spots. It’s likely the Bjugstad has underachieved in Florida, but that a change of scenery could really do him good, as we’ll note later on.

“Bjugstad has pretty good wheels for a big guy,” Litterbox Cats editor Todd Little wrote in an email to us. “And a nasty wrist shot, good at possessing the puck with his big body and long reach. Unfortunately that hard wrist shot ends up in the goalies sweater too often, and while being a pretty big guy, he isn’t nearly as physical as one would like.”

Todd thought Bjugstad, “might be a guy who needs a change of scenery and a more defined role. Personally, I think he makes a better winger, as I think center might be a stretch for him (unless surrounded by high quality linemates). I don’t believe he’s a great passer and might not think the game at a high enough speed.”

The obvious question after hearing that reasoning is why the sudden focus on size (apparently without toughness) if speed and skill won you back-to-back Stanley Cups? That remains to be seen.

McCann on the other hand has had a very impressive 2018 for the Panthers for a 22-year-old trying to make a splash in the NHL. Like Bjugstad, McCann possesses a high shot-volume type of focus on the ice. His underlying metrics haven’t jumped off the page yet, but it can be blamed on being rushed onto a poor Canucks’ roster as an 18-year-old kid. His productivity has basically been bogged down by two not very good franchises.

After joining the Panthers when Vancouver flipped him for Erik Gudbrandson (of all players), McCann’s potential seemed buoy in the right direction. Also, for what it’s worth, he’s a former Kyle Dubas prospect for the Soo Greyhounds in the OHL, which is also a nice nugget of confidence in his ability to develop.

Again from Todd at Litterbox Cats:

“McCann seems to be a solid enough young player. He scores the nice goal, makes the nice pass, and occasionally some has some talent, but he hasn’t put up the numbers we were hoping to see when he came over from Vancouver.”

McCann was recently bumped down from the third line to the fourth line center role after the Panthers called up their aforementioned, high-upside prospect Borgstrom. Reports have indicated that he’ll need to re-invent himself as a bottom-six guy and improve his faceoff win percentage to stay in the league, but it might just be one of those things where a better set of linemates will do the trick. He has a lot of talent and can surely develop into a pure scorer in the future, but it’s been difficult to judge how productive McCann could be due to the organizations he has played for as the lack of talent surrounding him thus far.

All in all, in its current state, the Penguins seem to have won this trade. They got younger and faster, and avoided the UFA drama. It remains to be seen, however, if Florida uses the space it freed up against the cap the haul of players and draft picks it got from the Penguins to go after pending Columbus UFAs Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky before the deadline hits or during the offseason.