Mike Sullivan isn’t big on numbering his lines.
During the Halcyon days of the HBK Line, which was composed of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel, Sullivan explained how he labeled his lines.
“We call Sid’s line Sid’s line, Geno’s line Geno’s line and Bones’ line Bones’ line.”
That brings us to the current non-third line, which, based on the early days of training camp in Cranberry, is made up of Jared McCann, Nick Bjugstad and Patric Hornqvist.
McCann appears to share Sullivan’s disinclination for line enumeration, especially given what he feels this trio could accomplish.
“I feel like we’re not just going to be labeled as a third line,” said McCann. “We have the skill on the line that can create like a first or a second line. Putting it just as third line is kind of tough, but we’re going to go out there and show that we can contribute no matter what.”
McCann contributed quite a bit upon his arrival in Pittsburgh in February via a trade which also netted Bjugstad. In 37 games with the Penguins, he scored 17 points (11 goals, six assists). And despite playing less than half the season with Penguins, he led the team with three short-handed goals.
In comparison, he only scored 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in the 46 games he played for the Florida Panthers last season.
McCann had the benefit of ample playing time with Sidney Crosby after the trade, but his increase in offense went beyond simply being on the No. 1 … err… Sid’s line.
“They just gave the opportunity to play,” he said. “I hadn’t had that in a long time. I came here and it was my first game, I played a lot of minutes. I was excited.”
“He knows he’s a good player,” Bjugstad said. “He had some good flashes down in Florida. A lot of times, it’s just opportunity and he took it and rolled with it when he was here. He was able to play a little more free here and play offensively. This guy’s got a lot of high-end talent. When you get the reins freed up a little bit, sometimes it changes your confidence and everything.”
McCann will presumably get the opportunity to play on … “Bjuggy’s line” when the season opens in October. Sullivan is intrigued by the trio, which saw sporadic time with one another in 2018-19.
“It’s a conscientious line in the sense that they play at both ends of the rink,” Sullivan said. “We can play them against other teams’ top lines and have a comfort level. They are a line that can score. There’s skill there. They’re all pretty accomplished offensive players. What I’ve liked about it – and we had that line together last year – was they’re hard to play against. They’re conscientious.
“If we don’t go power against power, say, for example, and we don’t play Sid’s line against another team’s top line, that’s another line potentiality that we could use if we want to take Sid out of some defensive responsibilities and (defensive) zone starts. We could use Nick and that line in defensive zone starts.”
There’s also the benefit of having two centers capable of taking draws.
“It’s nice to have Nick, that’s a righty, and Jared, that’s a lefty, that can both take faceoffs because they’re both center icemen,” Sullivan said. “If one of them gets kicked out, there’s a comfort level with a center iceman going in to take draws. We can put them in difficult situations and they’re effective.”
And while “grit” has become something of a vulgarity in the age of advanced metrics, McCann, Bjugstad and Hornqvist do offer some pushback to the opposition, much like a classic third line.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to help the team win, whether it’s getting in guys’ faces and kind of creating that way,” said McCann. “If we’ve got to do it, we’ve got to do it. We’ll do whatever it takes.”
Regardless of what line he finds himself on or what it’s called, McCann is eager to enter his second season with the Penguins after rediscovering his joy for the game following last season’s trade.
“I came to the rink every day and I was excited to play,” McCann said. “It was something I got away from. Now, every day is something new. I got to play on every single line so far. I’m just excited to be here.”
Scheduled to become a restricted free agent next offseason, McCann is eager to build off the success he had during the final three months of last season.
“I know I’ve got better,” he said. “I know I can contribute a lot more and I’m going to do that this year.”