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Confident McCann Trusting In His Abilities

We talked with his skills development coach Joey Hishon for the Inside Scoop on the forward's impressive season

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Back in December, Jared McCann's skills development coach Joey Hishon posted a photo of the two of them on his Instagram account, @skills_corp.

"Can't wait to watch this guy light it up when the NHL gets going," Hishon captioned the post.

And that's exactly what McCann has done.

He has five goals over his last six games, and going back slightly further, eight points (5G-3A) over his last seven games. Four of those tallies - and a team-leading five total - have come on the power play, where McCann has been making the most of his opportunity to play on the top unit. And overall, he ranks fourth on the team with 10 goals in 26 games. 

It's been an impressive display from the 24-year-old forward, but none of it comes as any surprise to Hishon. 

Hishon has known McCann for a long time - as they are both from Stratford, Ontario - and always knew he had an incredible amount of skill. It was just a matter of finding and maintaining the swagger to go along with it.

"When you watch him in practice, you're like, how is this guy not scoring 50 goals a year the way he shoots the puck?" Hishon said. "So with our history together, I think the biggest thing with Jared has always been confidence. I feel like he's finally starting to hit that stride and realize his own potential, which is obviously very high. 

"It's about him trusting in his ability and understanding that he can be one of the best offensive players in the league. Right now, he's definitely showing that."

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Hishon is five years older than McCann, and someone he always looked up to. After coming up through the Stratford Minor Hockey Association, Hishon went on to have a prolific junior career with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League, scoring 110 goals and 255 points in 214 games.

Hishon was then taken in the first round (17th overall) by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2010 NHL Draft, and spent four-plus seasons with the organization before playing professionally overseas. 

Later in his career, Hishon would come home during the offseason and train alongside McCann for up to three hours a day, five days a week, at the William Allman Memorial Arena - which is the one rink in their small town that keeps ice during the summers.

"He was one of those little kids that was a huge fan of the OHL and stuff when I was playing there, so I got to know him pretty well back then," Hishon said. "Then as he started to get older, it was like, holy smokes - this kid's a good player, too (laughs). So it's been a fun relationship to build."

After Hishon retired three years ago, he created Hishon Skills Corp., offering private, group or team sessions to clients (that include fellow Stratford native Justin Bieber!). And McCann enlisted his services during the offseason when he returned to Stratford following the Penguins' elimination from the Qualifying Round in August.

McCann was coming off a 2019-20 campaign filled with ups and downs that was exacerbated by the pandemic. He set career highs in assists (21), points (35) and power-play points (six) in 66 games. He also recorded 14 goals after posting a career-high 19 goals in 2018-19, split between Pittsburgh and Florida. 

But McCann struggled to score late in the regular season, and that continued into the playoffs, where he was a healthy scratch for Game 3 against Montreal. McCann admitted that he got down on himself and started gripping his stick too tight, but the more he fought it, the worse it got.

So McCann went to Hishon - who is also the assistant coach and assistant GM for Owen Sound - for help in becoming a more consistent player, doing private sessions twice a week along with a "ton" of video until it was time to return to Pittsburgh for the start of the 2020-21 campaign.

"We wanted to really try and hone in and work on things that we thought would help his game," Hishon said.

For example, Hishon would find footage of situations where McCann would throw away the puck or panic with it when he didn't need to, since he actually had more time and space than he realized. Using a program on his laptop, Hishon would then voice over what he thought could be corrected, and send the clips right to McCann's phone for him to look at.

"It was getting used to those kinds of situations and seeing himself on video repeatedly, and just kind of talking through it and helping him understand how good he really is," Hishon said. "Because he's such an elite, talented player that it's only a matter of time before he really starts to explode at the NHL level."

And as McCann said, they also looked at how he could better utilize his incredible shot, which he honed at the shooting range behind the barn on his family's farm.

"He shot hundreds of pucks every day, and it pays off," Hishon said. "For any kids watching hockey, a shot like that doesn't develop overnight. That's a lot of hours of hard work, and he's obviously put that work in."

For McCann, it's about having the mindset that there's no such thing as a bad shot.

"Every shot has a chance to go in," he said. "But I'm not going to force (it) or try to shoot through legs. I'm not going to try to do all that stuff, right? I'm just going to try to read the play and if my teammates are open, I'm going to try to find them. If the shot's there, though, I'm 100% going to take it."

They also did on-ice work, where McCann had the opportunity to skate with Ryan O'Reilly, captain of the St. Louis Blues. He is also someone Hishon has known for a long time, as they're both 1991 birth years and played together both growing up and with the Avalanche. 

"(O'Reilly) is a guy that I do some stuff with as well during the summers," Hishon said. "He's such a confident, calm, unbelievable puck protector with an unbelievable stick. For Jared just to kind of see the things he does and be on the ice with him, I think you learn a lot just from that."

O'Reilly is one of the best two-way forwards in the game, as is Sidney Crosby - someone else Hishon said McCann is lucky to learn from. Hishon feels that McCann has the potential to be a great two-way player as well.

"He broke into the league at 19 years old as more of a shutdown guy with Vancouver, but he's proven that he can score," Hishon said. "It's just a matter of him trusting in his ability, because I think when he's confident, he's such a dangerous player every time he steps on the ice."

The two of them talked quite a bit at the start of the year, but that's tailed off as McCann has since settled into a groove and is seizing the opportunities he's getting, both on the power play and in the top-six. That's exactly what McCann said he wanted to do after signing a two-year contract with Pittsburgh in September.

"Right now, he's just on fire and I don't want to be in his ear about different things. He's playing so well, I think he's got it under control," Hishon said with a laugh. "It's just so nice for me to sit back at a distance and watch a guy that I care about and I've worked with have so much success. It's so fun as a trainer."

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