Without a solid knowledge base on Michael McCarron, it's hard to get a hold on who exactly it is the Montreal Canadiens drafted 25th overall in 2013. The first thing that jumped out at me when I saw him take the stage to get his jersey was that he looks like a monster (not in an ugly way, Mike). 6'5" isn't a player's listed height very often, and even when it is, it's usually exaggerated. In this case it's clearly not. McCarron is massive.
But looking at his stat line, it looked like being big was his main attribute, and that's worrying. In order to get a better picture of what kind of player McCarron is, I contacted someone I knew would have a good grasp on him, former PR expert for USA Hockey, editor of United States of Hockey, and contributor to CBS Sports' Eye on Hockey (who provided excellent draft coverage you can find here), Chris Peters.
When I asked about McCarron, Chris wasn't shy about giving his opinion:
Mike McCarron is big. That's the first thing anyone will notice about a 6-foot-5, 225-pound forward. He plays the way teams want a big man to play with the good physical game and willingness to drop the gloves. But then you keep watching him and you notice he's not just big.
Mike has really good puck skills for a guy his size. He has soft hands and good vision, so he can really find teammates well. His shot may not be elite, but he has a pretty good release that can be somewhat deceptive. McCarron's skating has really smoothed out over the last few years while playing in Ann Arbor and it's gone from a weakness to mostly a strength.
The biggest thing McCarron will have to work on is his decision-making. Sometimes he'll make the wrong pass or take a careless penalty, but I think that kind of stuff can smooth out with some maturity.
Because of that, there's some risk involved in the pick, but here's why I like what Montreal did:
So often, big players get attached the upside tag and it's only because of his physical stature. McCarron's skills make him more than that. What's even crazier, he's 225 pounds right now, and he looks almost thin. He has room to put on 20 to 25 more pounds to fill out his frame. Good luck moving that guy from the crease. So Montreal isn't just betting on size, it's betting on projectable size, too. There just aren't many guys like him that can play with skill.
On McCarron's development over the next couple of years:
He will have a choice between the London Knights and Western Michigan next season and I really do believe this decision is crucial for his development. If he goes to the OHL, I have a feeling he's going to have to fight a lot. A LOT. I don't think Montreal drafted him to be a fighter. London has developed a lot of great talent, too, however. I'd just be concerned he gets pigeon-holed as an enforcer and that would be a mistake.
If he goes to Western Michigan, he won't be allowed to fight, so he can focus on developing his skills and still maintain a physical presence without dropping the mitts. He will get more time in the weight room to fill out that frame, and WMU almost definitely will put him in a top-six role next year with the team's lack of scoring depth.
Montreal will have a say in where he goes, I'm sure, but this is a really important decision and they'll have to examine his options carefully.
It seems like in spite of McCarron's generally unimpressive numbers in comparison to some of his peers, the "coke machine" label is fair here. Though his offensive numbers in his draft year resemble those of Tyler Biggs, a prospect that's often the butt of jokes in Toronto, it seems like McCarron's talent level is much higher, especially with regard to his shot and puck skills.
In fact, if you look at other scouting reports, the two seem to have a very wide talent gap between them. I already quoted Corey Pronman's ranking of McCarron yesterday, but let's look again today:
47., Right Wing, USA Under-18 (USHL)
McCarron did not blow the doors down with his numbers this season, but his game continues to trend in the right direction. His main improvement has come from his skating. He has progressed from a well-below-average skater to a roughly average one, especially considering his 6'5" stature. He is not only big, but also very strong, and he still has room to grow. He protects the puck very well, displaying solid physicality. McCarron is not an overly gifted offensive player, but he has decent hand-eye coordination, and an above-average amount of offensive instincts, enabling him to maintain possession with more than just his frame. He flashes good offensive plays here and there, but he still appears raw, and his overall feel for the game is unimpressive, despite some late-season improvement. He sometimes becomes too preoccupied with landing big hits, which can hurt his team. McCarron is committed to play for former Kings and Blues coach Andy Murray and Western Michigan in the fall.
It's pretty notable than McCarron was ranked outside the top 45 in a draft where many people speculated that the players ranked 20th-45th were of extremely similar value, however ranking 46th in a draft speculated to be so deep may show a deeper potential than we're giving credit for.
For comparison's sake, this is Pronman's write up on Tyler Biggs from the 2011 draft, a much weaker draft class as well:
78. Tyler Biggs, Right Wing, USA Under-18-USHL
Tyler Biggs is a decent skater who is a tick above average for a forward his size. His balance is notable, as he has a wide stance with the puck and is very hard to dislodge either when protecting the puck or when he's standing in front of the net. He's average in regards to his puck skills and can make decent, quick passes and will on occasion flash a notable stick-handling move, but then at other times he will look completely fringe when attacking a player one-on-one with the puck. His shot is solid to above-average which he locates well and puts a fair amount of torque into; his technique on his one-timers is notable as well. Biggs' best tool is his physical game, which projects as above-average to plus at the highest level. He abuses opponents along the boards with heavy hits, and regularly pressures defenders on the forecheck into making poor decisions. He's already developed a notable amount of muscle mass, and when engaged along the boards in a battle, he easily rubs out the opposition and comes away with the puck. Biggs' hockey sense however is fringe and sometimes even looks below that. He frequently makes random, horrid decisions with the puck, his positioning isn't good, and at times will even just chuck the puck blindly into no man's land amongst other decisions that leave people scratching their heads. The work ethic wavers too, and regularly I've regularly gotten reports from scouts that mention how he disappears for long stretches at a time.
Ranking Explanation: I don't like Tyler Biggs as a prospect, and like with the Russian prospects I should state again that this is not based on the recent Under-18's, but rather based on my long-term evaluation of Biggs. He skates fine, and well for a big guy, projects very well in the physical game, can shoot the puck and flashes offensive skill here and there. However he just doesn't do enough good things over a substantial sample size to warrant consideration into a higher ranking in my opinion. Overall, he's all right with the puck, but there are moments where he'll be decent, and moments where he looks like his hands are made of rock. His hockey IQ is fringe, and doesn't have the right combination of skills to project as a scorer. Biggs will be a player you throw out there to jet around, bang bodies, score a few here and there and maybe plant in front of the net on a power play, but there's simply too much wrong in key areas and not enough right in others to supplement that to think he's anything but a lower-tier prospect.
It seems to me that these two players are very different, and that McCarron has significantly more upside. Enough upside that he was worth taking in the first round? Peters thinks it's possible. I'm still not sold on where they took McCarron, but it's fairly easy to recognize that if he does happen to work out, he's an absolute home run. The problem with this pick is the risk factor, and it seems to me that there's a much higher chance of McCarron failing to fulfill that potential than actually being a 6'5" scoring behemoth.
Then again, if he was a sure thing at that size, he would have been a top 10 pick. Hopefully Timmins has outsmarted us all again.