CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – In his first on-ice appearance in a Florida Panthers uniform, second-year forward Jared McCann
couldn’t stop smiling as he deked and dazzled his way through various on-ice drills during the first day of development camp at the Panthers IceDen on Monday.
Acquired in an offseason trade with the Vancouver Canucks, McCann, the 24th overall pick in the 2014 draft, stands out as the only player participating in this week’s camp with any NHL experience to speak of. Having this first-hand knowledge undoubtedly gives him a leg up on the rest of the locker room, but the Stratford, Ontario native still remains grounded, knowing full well that nothing will be handed to him this week or any other week, for that matter.
“I feel like it’s always a tryout,” McCann said. “You’ve always got to be on your game. You’re always trying to impress people. Even this camp, for me, is kind of a tryout.”
After compiling 81 points (34-47—81) in 56 games with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, the 6-foot, 180-pound McCann jumped right from junior hockey into Vancouver’s lineup last season, recording 18 points (9-9—18) in 69 games as a rookie after making the team out of training camp.
"Last year [in Vancouver] was definitely a tough year," McCann said. "I felt like I wasn't really physically matured, but my skill level kind of took over and I was able to make the team out of camp. I've put on 25 pounds since last season, so it's been a journey... I put the work in this summer and have been training for three months."
Although his first NHL season didn’t play out exactly as he had envisioned, McCann seems to have already turned those bumps and bruises into fuel for the upcoming campaign. He’s been told that there will only be a handful of spots open in Florida’s lineup, so he’s doing everything in his power to get a head start on the competition.
"He's here at this camp because he wanted to be here," Panthers Assistant General Manager Eric Joyce said of McCann. "He didn't have to, but he wanted to come with the attitude he needed to work hard and try his hardest to impress the coaches and make the team.”
With a new team and a clean slate, McCann is admittedly eager to begin next chapter of his young career, aware of the fact that only his on-ice actions and off-ice attitude will pen his story going forward.
"I feel like you always have to try to impress people," McCann said. "I know I'm going to have to work hard every single day. They have a really deep team and have a lot of skill on it. I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to try to make the team.”
SCHEID’S BLAINE BUDDY
The third all-time leading scorer at Penn State University, forward Eric Scheid made the leap from collegiate to professional hockey last season after signing an amateur tryout contract with the Portland Pirates, the former AHL affiliate of the Panthers.
Scheid, 24, played three seasons at Penn State after one season at Alaska Anchorage, scoring at least 20 points and competing in at least 30 games in each of his seasons with the Nittany Lions. As a fifth-year senior, he finished second on the team in scoring with 28 points (13-15—28) in 34 games last season.
“Now that I’m done with college, the next step for me is moving onto the next level,” said Scheid, who appeared in three games with the Pirates last season. “Coming out here and trying to make a good impression is important to me. I think that a lot of the guys are in the same boat as me, but even the guys that aren’t necessary making the jump to pro next year are still trying to make an impression.”
A native of Blaine, Minnesota, Scheid is also a friend and former high school teammate of Panthers center Nick Bjugstad. And although he didn’t base his decision to attend this week’s camp solely on hometown ties, Scheid admits that he did make a few calls to Bjugstad before hopping a flight to South Florida.
“I talked to a little him about what to expect before I came here since he’s been to a few of these things,” Scheid said. “It was nice to pick his brain about what it was going to be like. It’s kind of cool going back to being on the same route as him and hopefully meeting up with him again.”
When asked to share some stories about Bjugstad’s high school years, Scheid, much to our delight, also had no problem spilling a little dirt and poking some fun at his former teammate for our enjoyment.
“I think the one thing that the fans have probably seen about him is that he goes fishing all the time,” Scheid said, holding back a few laughs. “The thing is, though, whenever he gets a fish, he’s five years old. He has no idea what he’s doing. He claims he’s a great fisherman, but he has no idea what he’s doing once he catches one. It’s pretty funny having to walk him through it. I saw some videos of him and Willie Mitchell fishing, and he hasn’t changed a bit.”
SUTHERS HAS SIZE
It’s hard to miss Keenan Suthers when he steps onto the ice.
At 6-foot-7 and 221 pounds, the 18-year-old forward is by far the tallest skater at this week’s development camp, towering over fellow big men Ian McCoshen (6-foot-3) and Lawson Crouse (6-foot-4) by several inches before he even laces up his skates.
“Guys always say that the smaller guys in the group prove that they can play and bigger guys prove that they can’t play,” said Suthers. “I just don’t think there’s a lot of guys my size that move as well as I do with the skill that I have. I’m a big guy, obviously”
The son of NCAA scholarship basketball players, Suthers spent the majority of his youth as a two-sport athlete, competing at a high level in both hockey and basketball. Once he reached his sophomore year in high school, however, he finally made the decision to leave the hardwood behind after receiving an invitation to join USA Hockey's National Team Development Program.
In his second season with the NTDP, Suthers recorded 11 points (4-7-11) in 51 games for the U.S National Under-18 team in 2015-16.
“With the U.S. National Program I was kind of slotted in a fourth-line role as a checking guy, so I didn’t get much opportunity,” said Suthers, who turned down a basketball scholarship from the University of Akron to pursue his hockey career. “I’m here to show that I can do much more. I’m kind of a make-a-play first player, so I’ll do whatever I can to get my teammates the puck.”
A long-term project with potential that matches his unusually large size, Suthers will play for the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL next season before enrolling at the University of Western Michigan in 2017-18.
“Everything is starting to come together,” Suthers said. “My strength is a big factor and I think I can become a really good player.”
- Jayce Hawryluk, a second-round pick of the Panthers in the 2014 draft, participated in on-ice sessions for the first time on Wednesday.
“This is my third camp,” Hawyrluk said. “I’m just looking to show guys the way to act off the ice… I’m a veteran here. I’m trying to carry myself the right way and hopefully they follow.”
- Jared McCann partook in a lighthearted Q&A session on Reddit on Tuesday. You can find it here.
- Development Camp will conclude with an instrasquad scrimmage on Friday at the Panthers IceDen.