Michael McCarron is a divisive prospect in the Montreal Canadiens system. He has many of the tools needed to be a quality asset, but seemingly can’t find the consistency he needs to make a true impact. At his best, he uses his massive body to win battles along the boards, and set up teammates around the net. He has soft hands and has shown he has the capability in the dirty areas to score goals and produce like he did in his rookie season.
This year, however, was another step back for the hulking centre, as he took on a more defensive role for the Rocket, and that allowed any combination of other forwards to handle the offensive zone time. Through his first two seasons in the AHL, McCarron was doing well as a defensive presence on the ice.
Through the first half of the season, he was performing well in that area once again, even if the points didn’t follow. The issues arose when injuries and call-ups placed McCarron back into a scoring role. The points still never showed up, but his deficiencies did.
On the positive side of things, until the wheels fell off in Laval, McCarron was Sylvain Lefebvre’s go-to centre, in a role that belonged to Jacob de la Rose the previous year. McCarron wasn’t lighting up the scoresheet like Chris Terry or Nikita Scherbak, but he was doing the right things with the puck to help the Rocket each game. He was carrying the puck out of his end and also into the offensive zone with control. It’s not the same as scoring a goal, but it showed that McCarron was using his body to his advantage to get play moving in the right direction, and eventually into the right places around the net.
In the offensive zone, when he’s on his game McCarron is a menace in the best possible way, using his giant frame to box out opponents in front of the net, and use his hands for grabbing goals in close.
For the first time in nine games, the Toronto Marlies surrender a power play goal.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 18, 2018
Michael McCarron with some great work in front of Calvin Pickard for his seventh of the year. pic.twitter.com/fHSvdHROH4
An underrated, and underused, part of his game is his playmaking ability. He’s more than capable of threading passes to teammates for goals. They’re more than simple one-time setups as well; he’s fed perfect passes across the entire zone, and even while falling down he’s good enough to get the puck on the stick of his teammates.
Both Rocket goals from today's game in Manitoba coming up.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 20, 2017
First Michael McCarron threads a perfect pass to Yannick Veilleux pic.twitter.com/GZFO4ETZJe
Rather than acting as just a screen on the power play, he was used more as a bumper instead. He would take passes in front of the net, and immediately distribute it back to a teammate and force opposing teams to react quickly.
However, just because McCarron is capable of these things doesn’t mean he did them on a regular basis for the Rocket, or at the NHL level. Since his rookie season where he was an AHL all-star and looked to be developing into a solid prospect, he’s regressed in terms of both production and quality of play. Too often he played as a passenger, not making any sort of tangible impact on the game, disappearing for long periods of time.
Playing a defensive role while the team was loaded up with scoring talent to start the year is all well and good. As attrition began to take its toll on the roster, McCarron was shifted up the lineup, but he couldn’t find the scoring touch the team needed. Coinciding with him moving up was a major dropoff in his play for the second half of the season. No longer was he suppressing shots, or generating shots of his own, but rather he had become an anchor on a line that was in desperate need of a rudder. One can point to the fact that his linemates weren’t of the same quality, yet that didn’t seem to stop some of the additions and other roster players from trying to make an impact on the ice.
Compounding the issue is that McCarron in the past two years hasn’t been able to rein in his discipline issues. He loves to play a physical game, and while his game can greatly benefit from controlled aggression, he has a tendency to skate around throwing hits that don’t make any sort of impact, and that doesn’t help his team in any fashion.
It’s an even bigger issue when factoring in McCarron’s love for the pugilistic arts. With seven AHL fights and two more in the NHL, it seems like a waste of a player who has shown the ability to be more than a standard fourth-line grinder.
Things haven’t been much better for him at the NHL level, where even a late-season call-up couldn’t seem to spark an outburst in him. In his 18 games McCarron ranked at the bottom of the Canadiens roster in shot-attempts-for percentage, at a meagre 43.60, all while playing just over eight minutes a night at five-on-five. That’s not nearly good enough for someone who is capable of much more than that, and in a season when his teammates were playing for spots for the next year, McCarron didn’t do much to carve out a spot for himself — even in Laval’s top six.
The footspeed and skating were always a concern, and more often than not it looks like McCarron is chasing plays, rather than being a part of them. There’s a lot of work to be done to try and make him into an NHL player, and as it stands right now it doesn’t look like there’s an NHL-calibre player there right now. While he and the coaches talked about grooming him for a defensive role in the NHL, he still should be able to show more offensive talent, as he did during his rookie year after his time in the OHL.
As it stands, Jacob de la Rose likely occupies the role that McCarron was gunning for to start the year. Even in Laval, McCarron was surpassed by the veteran Adam Cracknell, who not only ate heavy minutes, but became one of the AHL’s elite scoring forwards along the way.
You never want to give up on a prospect, especially a first-round pick who at one point looked like an impact player, but the sand in the hourglass is running low on the Michael McCarron experiment. He’s due for a new contract this off-season, and with no pressure on the roster limit in the AHL right now, he’ll likely return to the team. However, he needs to make the most of that chance, or he could be playing for a new team sooner rather than later.