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McCann ready to seize opportunity

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

After Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad left Saturday's 7-2 win against Columbus with lower-body injuries, Jared McCann moved to center and scored two goals in the game.

With Malkin and Bjugstad both out longer-term, the Penguins are going to need McCann to keep making the most of the opportunity he'll be given.

"Whenever players go down it always provides an opportunity for someone else to step up," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. "That's just the nature of our business. Fortunately, we have some guys that we can put into the center ice position that have familiarity and a comfort level there. 

"Jared already made an impact in the last game, and he's a guy that we can put at the center ice position and will probably play a more significant role."

Though McCann has mostly played wing with the Penguins since they acquired him from Florida in February of last season, he's a natural center who grew up playing that position. 

"It should be easy," McCann said of making the transition. "If they call on me to be that kind of guy, I'll be ready for it."

McCann said the biggest adjustment will be having more responsibility down low.

"I feel like as a centerman, you have to focus more on where guys are going," McCann said. "A lot of teams have a lot of skilled guys who like to just move around. And it's hard to keep track of them. But as a centerman you've got to stay focused on playing man-on-man and just try to stick with your guy."

While it might take some time to adjust defensively, McCann is off to a strong start offensively. He slotted into Malkin's spot between Alex Galchenyuk and Brandon Tanev and had immediate chemistry with the two of them.

"'Tanny' has got a lot of speed," McCann said. "Tanny can fly. We call him Turbo for a reason. I feel like 'Gally' is that guy who's always got his head up and is always looking to make a play. He's got that skill level, so I'm just trying to shoot the puck as much as I possibly can and try to contribute when I can."

That's exactly what he did on Saturday, finishing off set-ups from Galchenyuk on both of his goals.

"He's a skilled player," Galchenyuk said. "Moves the puck, skates well, has a great shot. Has all the great offensive instincts."

McCann took a big step forward last year in his third NHL season, scoring a career-high 19 goals with Florida and Pittsburgh. He had 11 of those tallies in 32 games with the Penguins following the acquisition, including a team-best three shorthanded goals.

The 23-year-old forward is hoping to take even more strides this season, especially after having the benefit of a full training camp and now moving back into a position that feels more natural to him.

"I definitely feel way more comfortable," he said. "Whether it's systems and stuff like that or even just getting to know the guys a bit more, it's been a lot easier.

"I have been given a great opportunity here and want to do whatever I can to help the team win."

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