It seems like every game is a revenge game for the Kraken.
Last weekend in Columbus, Alex Wennberg made his return in front of Blue Jackets fans for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. And this week in New Jersey, Nathan Bastian faced the team that left him exposed in the expansion draft.
On Saturday, in the Kraken’s inaugural home game, Jared McCann has a revenge game of his own.
He wasn’t the Kraken’s expansion selection from the Vancouver Canucks; that was Kole Lind, now in the AHL. The Kraken took McCann from Toronto, a team that added him in a trade from Pittsburgh as a shield for its other forwards.
The Kraken is the fourth team McCann has spent time with — Toronto doesn’t count, though it was a wild 48 hours — and the first where he feels like he can hit his stride.
It’s a feeling that was foreign his first year in the NHL, as a 19-year-old rookie with Vancouver.
“Being traded a couple of times, it’s difficult on a young player,” he said. “It’s very difficult for young players to get the opportunity; that’s the hardest thing in the NHL, to get the chance. So right now I’m very fortunate, I’m very humbled with this experience.”
Drafted 24th overall by the Canucks in 2014, McCann generated a lot of fanfare when he began his NHL career, immediately signing a three-year deal.
McCann had a solid start as a 19-year-old in a tough league; he tallied 18 points in 69 games his first season.
But along the way something soured. The Canucks gave up on him after that season and shipped him to Florida for Erik Gudbranson and a 2016 fifth-round draft pick.
It’s a deal the Canucks perhaps have come to regret. McCann, still just 25, began to flourish in Pittsburgh, his third team (he was traded to the Penguins for Riley Sheahan, now his Kraken teammate), generating a career-high 35 points in 2019-20 before the pandemic paused play. He added 32 last season in only 43 games.
The ceiling McCann established appears on the verge of being shattered, and it comes back to one thing — confidence.
“In Pittsburgh it was more of, like when guys got hurt I was the guy who stepped up,” he said. “Here I feel comfortable, and it’s something I have to get used to. It’s not every day you get the first-unit power play, first line, so it’s been awesome, and I’m just very thankful.”
The Kraken saw the offensive potential in McCann, making him an expansion target when he was with the Penguins. Pittsburgh knew that and dealt him to get a return, and the Maple Leafs figured he’d still be on the Seattle radar.
Part of the Kraken’s interest is the versatility McCann showed in Pittsburgh. With the ability to play on the wing and at center, Seattle could plug him into multiple roles and get offensive production.
Ahead of Saturday’s home opener with the Canucks, McCann has found himself back on the wing with Alex Wennberg as his center. Before that, while Yanni Gourde and Calle Jarnkrok have been out of the lineup, McCann centered the top line.
“That flexibility is very important,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. “He played good hockey for us through the preseason and the early part of the regular season, playing in the middle. Now we have players coming back in the lineup, so to have him on the wing, that flexibility is important.
“We rely on the offensive side, he’s important for our power play,” Hakstol said. “He’s a real important leader whether he’s up the middle or on the wing.”
McCann leads the Kraken in points with five (three goals, two assists) through five games. His 17:10 average time on ice is three minutes more than he had in any other season.
That players such as Gourde and Jarnkrok are returning and McCann’s role isn’t diminishing, still as a power-play leader and a top-six forward, has given him even more confidence.
“That’s huge,” he said. “It makes you want to play harder, it makes you thankful for the opportunity — when they’re giving you the opportunity, and you better take advantage of it.”
McCann credited his maturation as a player to his experiences across the league, learning from players such as Henrik and Daniel Sedin during his time in Vancouver.
“Getting traded really does humble you,” he said. “I feel like I still had that confidence in myself, and I can put the puck in the back of the net and I just need the chance, and this is probably one of the first times I’ve gotten a solid opportunity to show up and do it.”
He has faced the Canucks before, and with the Kraken he’ll see all of his previous teams this season. That lumps him in with the rest in its revenge tour of a season.
McCann denies there’s anything special about facing the team that gave up on him as a 19-year-old. Instead, it’s a representation of the organization that believed in him enough to use an expansion pick on him.
“We’re just all really excited,” he said. “It’s the first time we’ll be on that ice (Saturday) morning, and we’re just going to enjoy it. There’s a lot of history here; we all just want to be a part of it.”