Jared McCann doesn't want to be pigeonholed.
After putting pen to paper on a new two-year extension with the Florida Panthers on Sunday's opening day of free agency, the talented young center professed his desire to spend the length of his new deal improving upon each and every area of his game.
"[I'll play] anywhere," McCann said via conference call. "Anywhere I can. Wherever I can [play] in the lineup and whatever I can do to help the team win. I'll do whatever it takes. I feel like I've earned the coach's trust. I'm going to continue to do that. Hopefully, we can have a better start to the year and have a good playoff run next season."
McCann said he's been training "non-stop" since the Panthers fell one point short of the playoffs in April. He's been working out nearly every day this summer, spending time in Toronto with one of hockey's top strength and conditioning coaches, Matt Nichol. The chief formulator of BioSteel Sports Supplements, Nichol is helping McCann build off his strong finish to last season.
After Aleksander Barkov suffered an upper-body injury against Boston on April 5, McCann took his spot on the top line, finishing the 2017-18 campaign with four points (one goal, three assists) and a plus-5 rating over the season's final three games. In briefly filling Barkov's big skates, the 22-year-old center believes he was able to show the team what type of player he can be.
"At the end of the year I kind of showed that I could take on more of a role," McCann said. "This year I feel like I've earned the coaches trust. I'm just looking to build on it some more and be used in every situation I can be used in."
A former first-round pick in 2014, McCann, who was picked up by the Panthers in a trade with Vancouver during the summer of 2016, took a big step forward in his development during his second season in Sunrise, posting nine goals and 19 assists for a career-high 28 points in 68 games. Of his nine goals, eight came at even strength and four were game-winners.
Already known for his offensive abilities, McCann said the biggest improvements he made this season were on the defensive side of the puck, where he posted a career-best 32 blocked shots and 39 takeaways. At 5-on-5, he also started 51.9 percent of his faceoffs in the defensive zone.
At even strength, McCann was on the ice for 29 goals and just 21 goals against, giving him a Goals For rating of 58 percent - the second highest mark on the Panthers among skaters with at least 30 games played last season. Evgenii Dadonov's 58.18 GF% paced the team.
In terms of special teams, McCann averaged 33 seconds per game on the penalty kill.
"He had a good year last year, especially in the second half," Panthers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Dale Tallon said. "He was our leader in plus/minus. He played a shutdown role. I look for him to get better, even offensively, and play like we expect him to play moving forward. I think he'll be a really solid all-around player."
After winning the third-line center job during last year's training camp, McCann knows he will likely have to battle for the spot again this summer, as third-year pro Denis Malgin and rookie Henrik Borgstrom are also expected to vie for that coveted pivot position.
McCann, however, is up to the challenge.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself," McCann said. "I realize that nothing's ever given. I know I'm going to have to earn a spot still. I'm ready to take that leap and show them that I can do it."