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If the Habs won’t play Michael McCarron they should send him back to the IceCaps

Keeping the young winger as an NHL spare isn’t the right decision for his development.

Winnipeg Jets v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Michael McCarron watched his fifth straight playoff game from the stands, as he has been a healthy scratch for the Montreal Canadiens in their battle against the New York Rangers. In fact, you would have to go back to April 8 for the last game he played, making it nearly two weeks since he has seen any game action.

This has been a tumultuous season for McCarron, who bounced between the Canadiens and the St. John’s IceCaps after being recalled three times. Also, depending on which level he’s playing at, he’s been assigned entirely different roles, which raises the concern of uneven development.

With the IceCaps, McCarron saw top-line minutes and anchored the power play, putting up three goals and two assists on the man advantage. Playing as a centre in 32 games in the AHL this season, he scored seven goals (three of which were game-winners) and added 12 assists. McCarron’s last game with the IceCaps was on February 15, being on the active roster of the Canadiens ever since.

With the Canadiens, he’s a fourth-line player, rotating between wing and centre while seeing very limited minutes. He’s scored a single goal and added four assists in 31 games. That’s a significant drop in offensive output, which is to be expected given his limited role. As a result, McCarron tends to fight more in the NHL to try to justify a spot in the lineup.

The question that therefore needs to be asked is whether McCarron would benefit more from playing big minutes regularly in the AHL, or continue practising with the rest of the spares in the NHL. Even then, should he get in the line-up, he’ll have some very constrained usage.

With the Canadiens since February 17, he only played in 13 of the team’s final 24 regular-season games, none of the playoff games, and doesn’t look to be drawing in anytime soon. Meanwhile the IceCaps are preparing to start their playoff run tonight, and adding McCarron to the roster would provide the team with a massive boost.

It’s worth noting that McCarron, in his second professional season, does not have any professional playoff experience yet, though does have a Memorial Cup championship to his name from his junior days.

In a recent interview, IceCaps head coach Sylvain Lefebvre defended the decision to keep Charles Hudon in the AHL because it served his development better to play bigger minutes than to languish on the fourth line, struggling to get minutes. In the same breath, Lefebvre said that McCarron was benefiting from the time he was spending with the Canadiens, but that was just prior to McCarron becoming a permanent scratch.

Do these two prospects truly benefit from the different roles they are in? At this point, one needs to be concerned that McCarron’s inaction has a negative impact on his development.

The fact of the matter is that the NHL club will always take precedence over the AHL farm team, so having McCarron at the ready in case of an injury is prudent for the Canadiens. He would provide a big-body presence for the Canadiens, but does appear to be below Andreas Martinsen in that particular role. As for playing centre, there’s Torrey Mitchell who’s currently playing wing but can also slot in at centre, as well as Brian Flynn who’s waiting to get back in the lineup. In either case, McCarron is not really considered a go-to option for the Canadiens, but instead a last resort.

It’s not a question of CBA rules that are keeping McCarron in the NHL; it’s a conscious decision by the Canadiens. McCarron can join the AHL roster at any time since he was ‘papered’ down on March 1, making him eligible for the AHL playoffs. Should the Habs suddenly have the need for McCarron, they can recall him at any time without penalty or complications. For now, he just needs to play.

Listen to Andrew weekly on TSN 690 Radio Sundays at 8:05am on Habs Breakfast, part of Weekend Game Plan.