The Vancouver Canucks thought when they picked Jared McCann 24th overall in the 2014 draft he would eventually be good enough for the NHL.
In Sunday's Canucks intrasquad game at CN Centre the 19-year-old centre served up a reminder why he's still one of the team's brightest prospects, a noticeable influence in leading Team White to a 4-3 shootout win over Team Blue.
After missing the Canucks training camp last year with mononucleosis, McCann came to Prince George determined to try to make up for lost time. A month ago he suffered a concussion and shoulder injury in his world junior team audition at the Summer Showcase tournament and recovered just in time for this year's camp.
On Sunday, McCann was one of the best players on the ice playing for White. He positioned himself well defensively, made authoritative passes to linemates Hunter Shinkaruk and Mike Zalewski, and showed the CN Centre crowd he needs just a couple of strides to get up to warp speed.
"You have to show this team why you're here -- the Canucks know why they drafted all of us and they want to see us do everything we were brought here to do," said McCann, a native of London, Ont., who totaled 34 goals and 84 points in 56 games in the OHL last season for Sault Ste. Marie.
"I had a pretty bad bounce last year with mono and I felt like I had something to prove to the organization this year, that they didn't make a mistake drafting me, and I felt like I did a pretty good job today. It took us awhile for my line to get some glue together but the second and third period I thought we played really well."
Canucks GM Jim Benning liked what he saw.
"Jared McCann made some nice plays out there,,, we know he's a skilled guy and he's got a real good release on his shot but for him to understand the strength and speed of NHL players will be good for his learning curve to develop into a player," said Benning.
"He's going to get into some exhibition games here and then we'll go from there. (Assistant coach Glen Gulutzan) asked the guys to play hard and play with some intensity but when you're playing against your own guys it's not that feel of playing another team. We start the preseason (tonight at 7 in Victoria against San Jose, on Sportnet) so that will be the time in those games where we do our assessing on our young players."
Benning was also impressed with young forwards Jake Virtanen, Alex Grenier, Linden Vey and defencemen Matt Bartkowski and what they did in Sunday's game. After a scoreless first period, McCann kickstarted the White offence, taking the puck in deep on goalie Joe Cannata with Shinkaruk, who followed up by popping in the loose puck from close range. A couple minutes later Alex Friesen set up Virtanen with a south-to-north saucer pass which Virtanen batted into the net.
Brendan Gaunce got Blue on board 12 minutes into the second period, banging in a centring feed from Adam Cracknell. Prince Albert Raiders 20-year-old winger Mackenzie Stewart evened the count late in the period with hard snapper from the left wall that deflected in off the trapper of goalie Richard Bachman.
Friesen restored the lead for White in the third period with the teams practicing 3-on-3 in the final five minutes. Friesen's low far-side snap shot beat Bachman. Blair Jones got that one back for Blue with 1:14 left in regulation time. He had all kinds of room to cruise in alone with the puck and wired a high shot past Clay Witt.
Virtanen had the best chance in the sudden-death OT session, with two minutes left, sprung into the clear on a 2-on-0, but rang his shot off the post. The shots ended up 30-30.
Vey, the veteran centre, went first in the shootout and scored the only goal, a low wrister that beat Clay Witt. The partisan crowd had hoped to see defenceman Tate Olson be given a shot at the shootout in his last hurrah with Canucks this year before returning to junior with the Prince George Cougars, but wasn't included on the Team White list.
That didn't bother the 18-year-old from Saskatoon, whose stall in the CN Centre dressing room for camp was right next to that of the Sedins and Alex Burrows. Olson had the job of trying stop them from scoring in the camp scrimmages. It was all part of a whirlwind weekend he will likely never forget.
"It's a lot of fun playing with those guys out there," Olson said. "I think I was alright out there, the teammates made it pretty easy on myself, they made me look good. You look up to them your whole life and then you play with them, it's pretty exciting.
"It was a little bit faster (than the rookie camp in Penticton) but we got more familiar with each other as the camp went on so it was a little less scrambly on the ice. I'm just hoping to stay at this speed (this season with the Cougars) and keep going where I am and not lower myself. "
Olson played a regular shift for most of the game and made no glaring mistakes, which pleased the Canucks brass and the Cougars staff.
"Tate's a smart defenceman, he reads the game real well but he's still a young kid and he needs to get physically stronger to compete at the pro level, said Canucks general manager Jim Benning. "But the things we've seen from Tate, he can get back (quickly), he has his head up, he recognizes his first option and he makes a good first pass. I think it was a good learning experience for him, he now understands the speed and the strength of NHL players and he'll come back even better next year."
Like Benning, Canucks assistant coach Doug Lidster is a former Canuck defenceman and knows the challenges Olson faces over the next few years learning what it takes to be a pro.
"He was playing with some guys who have played quite a few years of professional hockey out there and he held up very well," said Lidster.
"He needs to do the little things that he learned here with his team and it's going to be harder because he'll be able to get away with things at the junior level that he wouldn't be able to get away with here. So it takes a bit of self-discipline to learn the good habits but that's true of any player, no matter whatever level they're at, if they want to develop into an NHL player."