Back in October, before the Vancouver Canucks had officially decided to hold on to Jared McCann, head coach Willie Desjardins was asked to identify his “biggest worry” in keeping the 19-year-old center versus sending him back to junior.
“The biggest worry is that down the road he gets worn down and the league gets hard for him and he loses his confidence,” said Desjardins.
At the time, confidence was no issue. McCann had four goals in seven games. He was riding high.
Since then, he has two in 22.
In his last 12, he has none.
Which is to say, the league has become rather hard for him.
“There have definitely been some tough nights with sleeping and it’s never easy,” McCann told The Province Monday. “I know I can play better. I’m over-thinking things and always trying to be perfect. I’ve got to get back to the way I’ve always played. Not taking anything for granted — and when I get chances, bury them.”
Now, this isn’t to suggest the Canucks made the wrong call here. It’s not like McCann has been totally lost out there; he may not be scoring, but he’s held his own defensively. In fact, Desjardins believes that McCann is “better now than he was early.”
Nor is it like the Canucks have any better options at center, which is why McCann isn’t expected to be released to play for Canada at the World Juniors, unlike his teammate, Jake Virtanen.
But this is the “fine line” Vancouver is walking, as it tries to stay competitive and develop youngsters at the same time.
“We want to draft and develop well, but we want our young kids to learn how to play in a winning environment, so they learn the right way to play,” GM Jim Benning said in April.
The only problem there is that the Canucks haven’t been winning, and McCann is feeling the pressure as his production wanes and the team’s losses pile up.
All part of the process for a young player? Yeah, probably. McCann is finding out how good the NHL really is. Nobody said it was supposed to be easy.
At the same time, this is clearly a kid who puts a ton of pressure on himself, possibly to his own detriment.
“I’m really grateful being part of this organization and being here, because they put a lot of faith in me and others didn’t in the past,” McCann said. “I feel like I owe them, and I don’t want to let anybody down.”
The Canucks have a lot of problems, but somebody may want to tell McCann that he isn’t one of them.