Two seasons ago, Michael McCarron was a struggling third-line right winger for the London Knights. Now, he is a point-per-game centre as a rookie in the AHL. It was a move to centre two seasons ago — on January 25, 2014 — that began McCarron's tremendous upward development.
McCarron, the AHL rookie scoring leader with 17 points, has had several noteworthy plays recently, including a hat trick, a last second game-tying goal, and a five-point game. McCarron's 13 even-strength points are tied for second most in the AHL, two back of William Nylander. However, there is cause for concern with the sustainability of McCarron's production. With just 33 shots on goal, he is shooting at 24%.
However, McCarron has been a force at both ends of the ice for St. John's this year. Daniel Carr, Christian Thomas, and McCarron have combined for one of the AHL's most lethal lines, scoring a combined 20 goals. Furthermore, the trio have occasionally lined up against top lines, often outscoring and outplaying the opposition.
And McCarron has been the best of the trio thus far.
The 6'6" centre's game has evolved in the past two years, going from a raw, indecisive winger to an intelligent, sometimes creative, two-way centre. The little details (the same details that made McCarron struggle in the first half of his OHL rookie year) have become his strength. His stick is seemingly always in the right spot and his understanding of body positioning is impressive. He forces turnovers at an impressive rate, especially on the backcheck. The results have been impressive:
McCarron, who was the best IceCap during this three-goal comeback, proves his attentiveness in this clip. First, he demonstrates his prowess along the boards, but as the IceCaps lose possession, McCarron comes flying in for his second big hit in as many shifts, leading to a turnover. As the puck ends up back on his stick, he distributes it while under pressure from two defenders, then pulls one into slot with him, creating a screen and confusion. Carr, doing what he does best, jockeys for positioning then opportunistically cashes in on the doorstep.
There is more to McCarron's offensive game, too. With a cannon for a shot, good hands in tight, deceptively quick feet, and clever playmaking ability, McCarron certainly has the tools to make a more consistent impact in the skill department. These are two great examples:
Shorthanded rush versus Hershey (Nov. 7):
Goal versus Toronto (Nov. 14):
It's these flashes that make an already unique package of skills tantalizing. Considering the inconsistent nature of these flashes at this point, it's questionable that they will transfer to the NHL. That being said, McCarron has been a two-way scoring threat just 16 games into his AHL rookie season. A tremendous start.
Move to Centre Pivotal for Jake Evans
Just like Michael McCarron before him, a switch to centre has proved the key for taking the next step for Jake Evans. In his sophomore year, he co-leads one of the NCAA's best programs with 11 points in 10 games and has become their top faceoff man, winning 58% of his 168 encounters.
In his freshman season, Evans played a majority on the right wing after splitting time between the two positions with the OJHL's St. Michael's Buzzers. He was switched to centre this year, playing with two freshmen: Dylan Malmqvist and Andrew Oglevie. Evans has also outproduced two highly-thought-of prospects in Connor Hurley (Buffalo, second round, 2013) and Mario Lucia (Minnesota, second round, 2011), while picking up nine of his 11 points at even-strength.
The slick playmaker handles the puck more often at centre, allowing him to demonstrate his excellent passing ability. Take his third assist of the game versus Minnesota (Nov. 6) for example:
Or his second assist of the game versus Northeastern (Nov. 12):
Both plays demonstrate great vision and patience. The confidence in the first play has been evident throughout the season. When Evans is playing at the top of his game, he is slowing the play down and exploiting open ice. He's not a dynamic player, but he has shown an improved ability to create chances at the NCAA level.
Evans has also undergone a transformation in his own zone. He went from a player who would see limited ice time in crucial situations to now often being the go-to player. As mentioned, he's far and away the top performer in the dot on Notre Dame, and he's making excellent defensive decisions for the most part.
Despite this great start, Evans is also sporting an elevated shooting percentage, at 18%, and has scored two goals on just 11 shots. Although he has always been a playmaker, he has to get the puck on net more than just about once per game.
There are times where he struggles to find open shooting lanes or passes in a prime shooting location. He is not a long-range shooter at the NCAA, nor was he at the OJHL level. Therefore he needs to get to the net more often to start getting shots to keep his hot streak rolling.