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Michael McCarron is adapting to a new approach to his development with a positive outlook

“This is the kind of game I need to play to get into the NHL and stay there.”

Montreal Canadiens v Toronto Maple Leafs Getty Images

Generally speaking, the perception of Laval Rocket forward Michael McCarron is quite elevated given that he’s a former first-round pick for the Montreal Canadiens.

However, his ascension in the ranks of the organization has not been a smooth ride thus far. We’ve witnessed subsequent first-round picks develop into NHL players a lot faster than McCarron, who has experienced numerous false starts with the Habs.

Ever since he arrived in the pro ranks, he’s been placed in offensive roles, centring the top scoring lines on the St. John’s IceCaps and playing alongside wingers such as Bud Holloway, Sven Andrighetto, Nikita Scherbak, Chris Terry, and Charles Hudon. Often finding offensive success in the AHL, the Canadiens would recall him to see if they could duplicate the big man’s points in the NHL, but he was usually shunted into an unfamiliar fourth-line role. Whenever he returned to the AHL, it would usually take McCarron some time to find his rhythm again as an offensive forward. The variation in deployment from the AHL to the NHL was confusing to say the least, not just for the fans, but probably for the player himself.

There was a disconnect between his AHL development and his NHL deployment, so there was a certain understanding when the organization decided to re-focus his development at the AHL level this season.

“When you look at the stat sheet, you could be disappointed,” said Rocket head coach Sylvain Lefebvre in an interview back in January, “but that’s not necessarily what we are looking for from him. He is capable of getting points, but he is doing good things on the forecheck and with his net presence on the power play. I look to his faceoffs and defensive play as well. Presently, he is playing a style more similar to what he will in the NHL. Everyone would like for him to score more, but the most important remains to build good habits, and that’s presently the case.”

Goals have been few and far between this season for the forward, a far cry from the 17 he scored in his first pro season. The new defensive role with defensively-minded forwards is definitely a big part of the reason. Playing with guys like Jeremy Grégoire, Yannick Veilleux, and Jordan Boucher, McCarron is cognizant that offence is currently not the primary expectation of the team, but that he may find his scoring touch yet again, albeit in a new role.

“That’s going to come with me learning to play defensively, and learning to play that hard-to-play-against role,” said McCarron after Monday’s game against the Toronto Marlies. “You see a lot of guys in the NHL do it, third- and fourth-line players who are really hard to play against, and they still chip in 10 goals a year, so that’s what I am trying to get towards. That’s the kind of game I need to play right now to get into the NHL and stay there. I’m willing to do it.”

Stat regression comes with the territory

Any public sentiment surrounding McCarron’s stat regression cannot be controlled by him, and he himself is well aware of it. He understands it and views it as a fresh start, not holding any animosity towards the team for resetting his development.

“Like you said, I’m playing a different role this year, I’m not mad that I am not in a first-line role anymore. I’m learning a defensive game and things are going to happen. I’m not going to play in the NHL like that so I need to learn my style of game, this kind of game, and there is no better place to learn than the AHL. I don’t regret it at all.”

At the end of the season, McCarron becomes a restricted free agent, but he says that he’s not thinking that far ahead, nor is he even aware of any contract discussions at this point. “I’m letting my agent handle it. I’m just playing hockey. Whatever they decide to do, they decide to do.”

Hockey returns to St. John’s

News came out on Tuesday, March 13, that the ECHL has officially granted an expansion team to the city of St. John’s, NL, a space previously left vacant when the IceCaps relocated to Laval after last season. McCarron played two seasons with the IceCaps and, even though moving to Laval helps prospects prepare for life as a Hab, he’s excited for St. John’s.

“I loved it. It was a great time. I met so many different kinds of people over there. I’m really excited that they are getting a team. They deserve a team; they are a hockey city. Like everyone always says, they are the nicest people in the world, so I am happy for the city.

“In Laval, it’s a brand new building with a lot more fans. You’re in Laval, which is right next to Montreal, where the hype of hockey is a lot higher than anywhere, even St. John’s which is a crazy hockey city. Montreal is the Mecca of hockey. Sometimes that can be challenging, but that’s only helping you for the next step in the NHL.

“Guys get hassled in Montreal and the same kind thing happens in Laval now. You just got to learn to live with it, learn to roll with the punches and take things with a grain of salt. We are learning it early and it definitely helps for the next step.”