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Michael McCarron’s off-season skating improvements could earn him an NHL spot down the road

It was not the training camp McCarron hoped to have, but the changes he made to his stride are positive.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Yesteday at noon, Michael McCarron was placed on waivers by the Montreal Canadiens. With too many forwards for the amount of spots open, some names had to be left out, and the first-round pick of 2013 was one of them. His performances were not enough to keep him over other standout players.

McCarron’s biggest issue was always his skating, specifically his first few steps from a stop. In a league where the pace of the game is very quick, the 6’6” forward was often left playing catch-up.

An article this summer on his acceleration stated the need to improve it to push his game to the next level. It outlined what he had to work on and what a skating coach could do to improve this aspect of his game.

A few weeks ago, it was reported that he had done just that. In fact, he spent the off-season training with Kathy McLlwain, a power skating coach.

“What we [the group that skates with McLlwain] do with her is edgework, tight turns, holding your stride longer and getting more powerful with your legs. She has a good track record so that’s why I came to her.” — McCarron to Exeter Lake Shore

He went to her committed fully to changing his skating and adding the edge his game needed. At the end of their lessons, his coach was impressed with his work ethic and, after pinpointing specific areas in need of work, seemed to have noticed vast improvements in how he moved on the ice.

The changes unfortunately did not make the difference for McCarron in pre-season evaluations.

It’s the reality of the NHL; you can put in the work during the summer as a bubble player, like in the case of McCarron, and still not manage to show enough in the preliminary games to get a spot in the roster.

But what remains a net positive for McCarron is that those skating improvements are absolutely noticeable in game, and they make him an interesting player to keep an eye on considering his build, even if the window for him to be considered a prospect is coming to an end.

The changes might also entice other organizations to take a longer look at him, as they get a chance to claim him before noon today.

At his height, it is not possible for McCarron to become a truly explosive player; he has to work with longer limbs that take longer to activate. But what he did was correct his form, changing multiple elements to maximize the power of his legs, and his skating starts are improved because of it.

Before working with a coach, McCarron had barely any change in his skating when he was trying to accelerate. He was immediately striding forward like someone would do closer to their top speed. He almost didn’t have an acceleration.

“He knows what he has to work on, everyone knows what he has to work on: his foot speed, the first couple of strides. He has that same stride all the time. You have to be able to separate first. That’s what he needs to do.” — Martin Lapointe, Director of Development

Accelerating from a stop on skates is almost like a runner’s start. And now, after the lessons, this is what McCarron’s starts look like.

There are a few notable changes.

Upper body: When you accelerate from a stop, you want all of your momentum to go forward. Before, McCarron would sway his upper body (and even his head) from side to side as he tried to jump from his first few steps. This was caused in part by having his arms move in an arc toward the middle of his body, instead of back and forth like what he is now doing. This new, better arm motion adds to his forward momentum instead of slowing it down.

Pushes: McCarron now gets lower by bending his knees a bit more, recruiting his muscle fibres better. But the big change is in the movement of his skates. He now tries to snap the front part of his blade at the end of his pushes and lifts his heels higher off the ice after a push (which is a good thing when accelerating, contrary to at top speed in forward strides). This way he actually has a ‘‘running start’’ and adds a second little toe-push to his regular pushes, once again, contributing to his momentum.

Recovery: With the way he now brings back his skates after a push, McCarron isn’t accelerating as wide as he was before. His knees pass almost under his hips as he prepares his next step and his skates also grip the ice better instead of sliding on it, which gives him more propulsion from each push.

As previously stated, McCarron didn’t transform into a quick player overnight, but those slight modifications added together can mean a lot in a game situation, especially coupled with the physical presence the forward can bring. Gaining a few fractions of a second in a race can be the difference between losing a race to a loose puck or arriving in time to gain body positioning over the opponent to win the battle.

Better skating is a step in the right direction for McCarron, no matter the current setback of not making the opening-night NHL roster. Now, he has to continue utilizing his better form in-game and not go back to his old ways. Down the road, keeping good habits and continuing to work on this aspect of his play could make or break his career, wherever he ends up.