World Junior Championship decision looms for Canucks' Jared McCann

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The Canucks announced on Sunday that Jake Virtanen will be loaned to Team Canada for the World Junior Hockey Championship in Finland later this month. That begs the question: what about Jared McCann?

Like Virtanen, McCann is just 19-years-old, drafted by the Canucks in the first round of the 2014 Draft, and in his rookie NHL season. Despite their similarities, the decision on McCann is much more complicated than the decision to send Virtanen.

For starters, McCann has had an easier time adjusting to the NHL this season. The former Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound has shown flashes of brilliance, displaying the skill that makes you believe that he could be a number one centre one day.

In 29 games, McCann has scored 6 goals and added 3 assists, playing primarily in a third line centre role. On some nights, he has been Vancouver’s best forward. He is averaging 12 minutes of ice time per game, more than two minutes more per game than Virtanen.

So what is Canucks GM Jim Benning going to do?

With Brandon Sutter out of the lineup, there’s no question that the Canucks are a better team with McCann. That is, unless they find another centre through trade or on waivers.

Jarrett Stoll is a name that might intrigue the Canucks:

Barring any roster moves, the Canucks could call up Linden Vey from Utica (he has 14 points in 25 AHL games), or give an opportunity to career minor leaguer Alex Friesen (7-5-12).

Given that the Canucks kept Bo Horvat last year, who was leaned on even less than McCann is this season, it might sound strange to say that sending McCann to the World Juniors would be a good decision.

But you know what? It just might be.

McCann has decent numbers for a first-year player, but he may be hitting a rookie wall. After scoring 5 goals in his first 9 games, he has just 1 goal in his last 20. He’s currently on an 8-game pointless streak.

The World Junior tournament might be just the shot in the arm McCann needs right now. It would be his first time playing in the tourney, under high pressure, while excelling in a prominent role. After the tournament, McCann could return to the Canucks with a renewed confidence.

In the short term, the Canucks are unquestionably better off with Jared McCann in their lineup. But long term, both for the player and the organization, loaning McCann to Team Canada is the right call.

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Rob Williams Sports Editor at Vancity Buzz covering all sports in Vancouver.
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