A couple of weeks ago I proposed in a Trending Players post that Jared McCann was the key piece the Penguins were after when they traded Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan, and a bunch of draft picks to the Florida Panthers, and that Nick Bjugstad and his contract was simply the price to get it done.
The response to that was mixed.
Some agreed with the theory.
Others responded by telling me Jim Rutherford and the Penguins have been after Bjugstad for a couple of years and were always intrigued by him. It is entirely possible that may have been true at one time, but I just don’t see Bjugstad and his contract at this point in his career being that type of centerpiece player in a deal.
So far the play have the two players has only made me feel better about my theory (whether it is true or not) because Jared McCann is the one that has stood out the most. And honestly, I am not even sure it is very close.
He just looks... better.
At times, a lot better, and I’ve been saying this since even before his two goal night on Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a performance that was badly needed for the Penguins as they try to play their way back into a solid playoff position.
There a few things about McCann that have surprised me.
For one, he’s a lot more skilled than I expected him to be. That shouldn’t be a huge shock because he was a
top-10 first round draft pick not that long ago, but he has made some extremely slick plays with the puck and seems to have an incredible shot. I think the first goal he scored last night was more of a change-up that threw off Sergei Bobrovsky, but I’ve seen him unleash some rocket wrist shots that haven’t yet found their way to the back of the net. He keeps letting them go like he has, they will.
He also has a bit of an edge to his game and doesn’t really back down from anyone.
I know the early underlying numbers are not great, but it’s such a small sample size that it is difficult to draw any real conclusions from that. Watching him, though, you can see the potential and ability that he has and, again, he has just been more noticeable than Bjugstad even though they have the same number of points.
So far Bjugstad just hasn’t stood out in the same way or made the same type of first impression. And given that he’s four years older and about $3 million more expensive this year and next it just doesn’t seem like he is going to be long for a Penguins uniform.
I see this eventually playing out as McCann developing into the team’s long-term third-line center, Bjugstad getting flipped someplace else in an effort to shed some salary, and the Penguins going into next season (or ending next season) with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and McCann as their top trio of centers, with either Teddy Blueger or a veteran Matt Cullen-ish player handing the fourth-line duties.
Maybe I’m putting too much stock into a less than 15-game sampling. But McCann just already strikes me as the type of player the Penguins really need. A young, still cheap, still developing, and very talented player that can make a difference in a bottom-six role.
I just don’t see Bjugstad fitting in long-term with that contract. He strikes me as more Tanner Pearson than a long-term solution.
I have been very critical of the job Jim Rutherford has done the past two years and the roster moves he’s made and then quickly had to undo, because it’s made the team worse and cost them additional assets as they chase their tail trying to correct their mistakes.
But early indications are that he has maybe found a keeper in Jared McCann.