Michael McCarron is going to finish the season in Montreal for a second season in a row, and for a second season in a row he is failing to carve out a role for himself, leading many to speculate on his immediate future with the club.
The 2013 first-round pick has not developed as planned despite showing significant potential in his rookie AHL season with the St. John’s IceCaps. He’s lost several steps offensively since then, and it became apparent that his future in the NHL would not be of the top-six variety.
Instead, in order to stand out from the bottom-six pack in Montreal, he will have to become the most miserable checking forward to play against. His development path was changed in Laval this season, and he lined up with the top checking line while developing his centreman acumen.
Based on the handful of games in the NHL so far on his latest recall, he clearly still needs more time to mature into the role, but time is something that is not in McCarron’s or Montreal’s favour.
The matter of a new contract is of little importance. McCarron can easily sign a two-way contract that allows his to play at both the NHL and AHL levels. But even though McCarron is just finishing his entry-level contract this year, because he signed it when he was 18 and it slid twice, it’s been five years since he first signed, and therefore he becomes waiver eligible next season.
That is the bigger problem for the Canadiens.
The conundrum is whether they will risk putting him on waivers to allow him to develop more in the AHL. However, when a large, still-developing centre, and a former first-round pick, like McCarron goes on waivers, odds are high that some team will take a chance on him, and Marc Bergevin will lose an asset for nothing.
The Canadiens’ general manager usually chooses the path of least resistance when it comes to waiver eligibility, only doing so when it becomes absolutely necessary. He frequently bounced Daniel Carr around last season because he had the flexibility, and the year before it was Sven Andrighetto flying back and forth to St. John’s. This season, Bergevin sent Jakub Jerabek to the AHL to avoid a roster-limit situation, and of course McCarron was a recipient of the treatment as well.
But next season will be different. Seventeen of the 18 players on the current Canadiens roster will be waiver eligible, with Nikita Scherbak being the only exception. If we assume that Ales Hemsky is gone (safe bet), but that all restricted free agents return for another season, that is 16 forwards in the lineup. It would be naïve to think that there won’t be any roster changes, but it’s quite likely that there will still be an abundance of choices at forward, and some players will have to go on waivers. If McCarron is one of them, does he even make it to Laval?
The most likely options therefore become the following: make the team out of the gate next season so as to avoid waivers entirely, or get traded for an asset in return, likely a player who is still waivers exempt. Both of those options have a higher chance of happening than McCarron being submitted on waivers Fans either get the pleasure of seeing a first-round pick graduate to a full time role in the NHL or the disappointment of first-round bust.
We find out in October. Or possibly sooner.