The Penguins’ off-season roster construction continues.
When the team was shockingly eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens last month, all eyes turned to 2021 and what that roster would look like. GM Jim Rutherford, as he so often does, openly promised to bring change to his squad to maximize the last remaining years of the Crosby/Malkin championship window.
First, GMJR wanted to bolster his top-6 forward group, so he went out and re-acquired his 2014 first-round draft pick, Kasperi Kapanen from the Toronto Maple Leafs. A curious move and pretty big package for the player, but Rutherford believes in Kapanen’s long-term ability.
We all thought Juuso Riikola’s days in Pittsburgh were numbered after the Penguins were bounced. Riikola played in 36 games this season, but was eating pretzel nuggets more often than not. Both the player and the team looked like they would mutually agree to part ways. Then, the defender ended up signing a 2-year extension with the club earlier this month.
Center Nick Bjugstad was just traded to the Minnesota Wild a few days ago, while the Penguins still retain 50 percent of his remaining salary for this upcoming season.
And now, the team has re-signed forward Jared McCann to a 2-year deal. This news comes after it was reported that the team began to sour on McCann’s ability to anchor the third-line center role, a position the Penguins have been wanting to fill since the departure of Nick Bonino.
Sure, with how Rutherford operates, I have no doubt that McCann can still be traded even after this deal. But for the sake of not opening that can of worms right now, we will assume McCann will start the season in the black-and-gold. But where exactly will Mike Sullivan deploy the 24-year-old after an up-and-down campaign?
With the Bjugstad trade, this makes the most sense, at least for where things stand right now before the start of free agency. While McCann can be a streaky player, and his 2020 playoffs were probably something he’d like to forget, what other immediate options do Sullivan and co. have at their disposal? McCann did log roughly 15-20 games at center this year. While the results maybe weren't what the Penguins were expecting, the position isn’t a foreign concept to McCann.
Assuming Brandon Tanev, Teddy Blueger, and Zach Aston-Reese all return, that dominant defensive trio may not be touched, and may become the everyday fourth line.
Sure, Dominik Simon and Sam Lafferty are two names that have dabbled at the center position, but I think both players are better suited on the wing, all things considered.
Let’s say the Penguins find their future 3C in free agency or via trade. McCann also has experience playing the wing. Between Jake Guentzel and Jason Zucker, McCann will likely never see top-6 action on the left side unless there is an injury.
The aforementioned Tanev and Aston-Reese occupy the wings on their line. This may be the only other available slot for the Stratford, Ontario native. Remember, McCann still put up 14 goals and 35 points in 66 games this year. That’s quality bottom-six production. Take away the responsibilities of the center position and maybe McCann flourishes alongside a new face?
Maybe Tristan Jarry, Matt Murray, and Casey DeSmith all get traded! Let’s put that versatility to the test! Okay, okay, McCann isn't strapping on the pads anytime soon, but with how the Pens’ off-season has started out, you never really know anymore...
What do you think? Is McCann best suited as a winger or center? Will he even be on the team come opening night puck drop? Let us know down below!