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Laval Rocket season review: The curious case of Michael McCarron

A shoulder injury derailed what looked like a rebound season. So what do the Canadiens do with Michael McCarron now?

Club de hockey Canadien, Inc.

Tick. Tock.

That is the clock slowly reaching it’s final hour for Michael McCarron as a prospect in the Montreal Canadiens’ system. The 2013 first-round pick wasn’t able to complete a full season for the Laval Rocket this season, as years of damage to his shoulder reached a breaking point and required the forward to go under the knife to fix the problem.

However, the news isn’t all bad. Before his injury knocked him out of the lineup, McCarron seemed to have found his offensive game under Joël Bouchard and was on track to right his wayward development.

With 21 points in 32 games, McCarron’s production was the best it had been since his rookie season with the St. John’s IceCaps, and would likely have surpassed it by season’s end. In those 32 games, McCarron looked like a new player, embracing his role as a power forward and defensive specialist he became a nuisance around the net. With a 6’6’’ frame, McCarron used his massive stature to effectively box out defenders while he drove the front of the net for his chances, and began to find plenty of success that way.

It was the net-driving, simple style that seemed to generate the most offence for McCarron, and with a coach using him in the right roles, he was beginning to undo several years of wasted development.

It wasn’t just his ability to score goals that improved. His overall patience with the puck and in his playmaking took big strides forward. He was no longer trying to rush plays, or blindly throw passes into space; he took a moment, read the situation, and found the best option more often than not.

Do not fret, however, as the heavy physical edge McCarron enjoys did not go anywhere while he focused on creating offence for the Rocket. With gargantuan size, and a mean streak longer than a line of traffic cones in Montreal, he can be a physical nightmare for opposing teams. He’s not afraid to throw his weight around, or throw his hands when the situation arises. There isn’t a situation where he isn’t willing to interject with physicality.

His penalty minutes remain a slight concern (46 PIMs in 32 contests), but those come mostly from his four fights on the year. For the most part the roughing and slashing penalties had become less prevalent, allowing him to be on the ice and effective more regularly.

When not producing points, he remained one of Bouchard’s trusted defensive options, and was a big piece of a penalty kill that was at the top of the AHL to start the year. With a wingspan and reach like McCarron’s, he has the ability to cover plenty of ice on his own, and with an active stick can disrupt opposing attacks with ease.

But several years since he was drafted, with his second NHL contract just about to expire, what do the Canadiens do with McCarron now?

They brought him back after a brutal 2017-18 campaign, and he showed that he still has plenty to give as a prospect in the organization. A serious injury cutting his season short is a concern, but the production and play on the ice prior to that speak to the fact he is improving and moving forward in his development again. It makes sense to try another one-year deal, and hopefully have a full, healthy season from McCarron to accurately gauge his place in the organization.

As it stands, McCarron likely tops out as a bottom-six centre, more than likely on the fourth line right now. The problem with this is that he has some serious competition in front of him, and also nipping at his heels in the AHL as well. Lukas Vejdemo stepped up in a big way with McCarron out of the lineup, and could easily surpass him if his current play keeps up. Beyond that, the trio of Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling and Nick Suzuki all present better offensive options, while being solid defensively in their own right.

At the NHL level, McCarron is up against Nate Thompson and Jordan Weal, both of whom just signed extensions with the Canadiens, meaning his fourth line spot isn’t a guarantee, even as a winger. If he comes back for another year, McCarron will have to produce a strong showing in the pre-season and in camp to make his mark, and it’s not out of the question that he could. He will have plenty of competition besides the previously mentioned names, as Dale Weise, Matthew Peca, and Nicolas Deslauriers will all be in the mix as well.

It has been a curious career for McCarron since he turned pro, with wasted development years bouncing between the AHL and NHL, and was injured just as began to achieve a level of stability. It would not be a surprise to see the Canadiens cut ties and move on, but keeping him around shows that the organization thinks there is a player to be had still. It would not break the bank to bring him back into the fold, it just all depends on what Marc Bergevin and his staff think they have in him.