Michael McCarron has a tantalizing set of attributes. A player of his size, with his potential, is what every team wants.
The 2013 first-round pick has yet to reach his potential at the professional level. Most of his NHL time has been spent in a fourth-line role, but even his time in the AHL has not brought the production you want to see from a first-round selection, or from a future everyday NHL player.
His numbers in the AHL are not great, especially those from this past season, not scoring his first goal until November. He didn’t make the jump in his second season that many expected.
McCarron’s statistics weren’t as poor as they seem on the surface. Among IceCaps players, he was third in primary points per game at five-on-five. Fourteen of his 19 points came at full strength, and 11 of those 14 were either goals or primary assists. Only Charles Hudon and Sven Andrighetto had more primary points per game among IceCaps players.
Among AHL players under 22 years of age who played at least 30 games, McCarron finished tied for 25th in primary points per game.
These statistics are not enough to project McCarron to anything more than a third-line player at best, but they provide some context to why people believe he has more to offer.
Half of the 24 ballots placed him in the top 10, and all but six of the votes were within the 7-13 range. His votes went as high as 5 to as low as 15, with the EOTP community vote ranking him at #8.
Top 25 Under 25 History
McCarron has had a roller-coaster ride in these rankings. He debuted shortly after being drafted at #14 in 2013, then dropped after a tough first season in the Ontario Hockey League.
He rose to 10th the next year after a breakout season that saw him win the Memorial Cup and held station last year before taking another small step this year.
McCarron’s size is his main asset. He is a big body and he can go to the net. He has the ability to drive the offence, largely from using his reach to protect the puck in transition.
His big frame allows him to carry defenders into the zone. He can win board battles to keep his team on offence and put pressure on the opposition. He also knows when to head to the dangerous areas of the ice and make it nearly impossible for goaltenders to see incoming shots. Not only is his size hard to deal with, but he has good instincts once he gets there.
Joel Hanley shoots, Michael McCarron cashes in on the rebound to give the IceCaps a 3-2 lead. pic.twitter.com/aUJCDwNaxi— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 4, 2017
His skill is underrated for a man his size. He’s not just a big body that can be stuck in front of the net. Because he’s so big, he draws attention from the opposing defence, and unlike other big forwards, he has the skill to find open teammates in space.
It’s flashes of that playmaking ability that made him a first-round pick, and why people are still high on him as a prospect. If he plays this way more, it may go a long way toward allowing him to be a more productive forward.
Tic-Tac-Toe. Nice play by McCarron-Carr-Terry pic.twitter.com/ujIQNAmJbV— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) December 29, 2016
The biggest issue for McCarron is the combination of skill and speed. He’s not a great skater and he doesn’t have great hand skills, and the combination of both is what is concerning.
The flashes of brilliance don’t get displayed as often as they should, and he sometimes resorts to fighting to make his impressions when he is much more valuable playing hockey.
He will need to produce more offence in order to show he’s capable of taking an NHL roster spot. It hasn’t helped that he hasn’t had a full AHL season in two years of professional hockey due to NHL call-ups. It would be better to have him develop those skills in the minors rather than have him fill in fourth-line minutes in the NHL or sitting in the press box getting no game experience at all.
This will be an important season for McCarron. He is entering his third professional season, and he will need to step up his offensive production to show he still has some high-end potential.
McCarron’s time in the NHL should be taken with a grain of salt, and it’s hard not to question the effect the time with the big club had on his development.
In 31 games with the Canadiens, McCarron’s most common forward linemate was Daniel Carr. Looking at the lines he played on, the list is littered with guys like Torrey Mitchell, Brian Flynn, Dwight King, Andreas Martinsen, Bobby Farnham and Steve Ott.
It’s easy to look at his NHL production and be concerned, but could a 21-year-old who may not be ready to perform at the NHL level realistically be expected to perform offensively with those players? You can’t just put him in the top-six, but at a certain point you need to not bury him and see how he does.
It wasn’t all bad for McCarron. His Corsi-for percentage at five-on-five was better than all of the players mentioned above except for Carr. He was also on the ice for more high-danger scoring chances for than against, with a percentage that puts him ahead of guys like David Desharnais and Sven Andrighetto.
When you compare him to fourth-liners, many of whom he has played with, he has performed favourably, with the caveats of competition quality and sample size to consider.
But the showing is still not great. Players who put up points like McCarron has registered in the AHL don’t become top-six or even top-nine regulars. Some of that might be due to environment, but it also may come down to who he is as a player.
He will find himself in a tough place to make the Habs out of camp, and that may be a good thing. He would be better off to find his place offensively instead of plodding as a fourth-line player with unskilled linemates.
With the added attention about to be put on the AHL team, in the likely event that his status as a waiver-exempt player sees him wind up there, he will need to impress. If he shows more ability than the offensive numbers show, there will be a greater likelihood that it’s noticed by both media and the NHL management staff, and he may get one step closer to a proper NHL opportunity that lets him take advantage of his skills.