by Chris Peters
It’s that time of year, when the last buzzer has sounded, the Stanley Cup awarded, the Draft completed and rookie camps just starting off. As the temperature rises this time of year, so does the number of players signing with Canadian Hockey League teams.
Though nothing has been made official yet, it appears the biggest NCAA-CHL recruitment battle of the offseason may be over.
Michael McCarron, 25th overall pick of the Montreal Canadiens, according to the London Free Press appears likely to sign with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. A decision was expected to be made Wednesday, but as of this writing, nothing has been made public.
UPDATE (7/11, 9:23 a.m.): Montreal announced Thursday that it has signed McCarron to a three-year entry-level contract, meaning he forfeits his college eligibility. He will almost assuredly play for the London Knights next season, so consider the hypotheticals below not hypothetical.
If McCarron does sign, he’ll leave a commitment to play at Western Michigan University next season on the table. McCarron had also previously given and rescinded verbal commitments to Michigan State and Cornell over the last three years.
A move to the Knights always seemed possible after London acquired McCarron’s rights from Belleville last June in exchange for a fifth-round pick and other conditional picks. London has a habit of getting their man.
McCarron, whose older brother plays for Cornell, still seemed on the college track before the draft, but had mentioned he’d be open to alternatives if the NHL team that drafted him had other plans.
The second McCarron was picked by Montreal, the likelihood of him making it to Kalamazoo became much slimmer. The Habs organizationally have had a recent habit of drafting college-bound players in the first round. The last two such players ended up in the CHL.
The first was 2009 first-round pick Louis Leblanc, who spent his draft year in the USHL before attending Harvard. He played one year for the Crimson before Montreal signed him to an entry-level deal and assigned him to the Montreal Juniors in the QMJHL, where he played in 2010-11. He ended up splitting the following season between the AHL and NHL, but was in the AHL for the entirety of this most recent season.
Jarred Tinordi ended up committing to the London Knights after being selected 22nd overall by the Habs in 2010. Tinordi left a commitment to the University of Notre Dame on the table and spent two years with the Knights before moving onto the AHL this year. He did see some NHL action towards the end of this season, including five games in the playoffs.
The Habs also took a pair of college-bound players in 2007′s first round, who remained on the college track: Ryan McDonagh and Max Pacioretty.
McDonagh, who spent three years at the University of Wisconsin, ended up getting traded to the Rangers in the Scott Gomez deal, but has blossomed into one of the finest young defensemen in the league.
Pacioretty, who spent one year at Michigan before signing with Montreal, had a 30-goal season in 2011-12.
Those guys seemed to turn out OK.
Conversely, in 2006, the Canadiens selected David Fischer out of the Minnesota high school ranks. He played four years at Minnesota and after just two AHL games and a pair of ECHL seasons, he spent last year in the German second division league. So there’s at least one cautionary tale, I suppose.
The Habs have really gone after the U.S. college-bound kids over the years and have had mixed results, but the two most successful to date went straight from college to the pros. Time will tell on Tinordi, who really did blossom over the last few years and could be a solid NHL defender. Leblanc as well still has good upside, but is no longer the top prospect he was once thought to be.
All of these players pre-date Marc Bergevin’s tenure as general manager, so how the development of McCarron is handled is an important test. The big guy was a risky pick at 25 as he’s still so raw, but that’s what makes the next two or three years so incredibly important for his long-term success.
I think he would’ve been fine going to Western Michigan, but I don’t believe going to London will hurt him developmentally either.
For McCarron, he has a lot of development ahead of him, but if you’ve seen him over the last three years, you’ll know how much he’s improved over that span. He still has room to grow and smooth out his game. If he continues on this development arc, the Habs’ risk may payoff in a huge way.
His skating, while still not fluid or necessarily pretty, has smoothed out a lot and he gets to where he needs to go quickly enough. His enormous frame isn’t just meant for punishment anymore either. The 6-5, 225-pound forward still plays with snarl and fights, but he also figured out how to use his frame in puck protection and he uses it more effectively along the walls with or without the puck.
On top of that, McCarron’s puck skills have progressed in ways I did not expect them to. He’s got touch with the puck, a good nose for the net with a solid release and his distribution ability has really surprised me. He finds teammates well and passes crisply and accurately.
McCarron still needs work on some of his decision-making and his penchant for ill advised penalties, but all of the physical tools seem to be there. The rest should be able to catch up.
So assuming McCarron is headed to London, the hope for the Canadiens should be that he doesn’t turn into just an enforcer. While his physical game is remarkable, there’s so much more to what he can be if everything goes right.
Playing in the OHL, he’s going to be challenged a lot by other teams’ tough guys. The OHL’s new fighting rules should prevent him from becoming a 300 PIM guy, but there’s a good chance he’s going to have to go a lot. Teams don’t draft tough guys in the first round (at least they shouldn’t).
As long as his skills are able to progress, he should be fine long term. McCarron has potential to be a high-end power forward at the next level, who will hit, fight and score. The London Knights have produced a lot of good skill players over the last few years, so hopefully McCarron gets ample opportunity to work on skills.
One of the big benefits is the number of games. McCarron definitely needs a lot more reps to continue working out his game. If there’s one thing the OHL offers beyond allowing fighting, the games will probably factor in prominently.
He’ll also have to focus on continuing to bulk up. His frame isn’t completely filled out, if you can believe it. McCarron is already incredibly strong, but he has room to grow and if he adds a little more strength, he has potential to be a dominant force at the next level. That’s one of the reasons I thought WMU might be a really good fit, as there’s more time for weight training. There’s also more time for practice, which can help skill development as well.
There are some clear pros and cons to both paths in this instance.
For Western, this is going to be a tough pill to swallow. At this point McCarron, would be the highest draft pick in program history. He also would be a high-profile recruit for a program on the rise, one of those guys that makes other players take notice of what’s happening.
On the ice, McCarron probably would’ve played a big role right away seeing as WMU’s forwards had an awfully hard time generating enough offense last year on a consistent basis. He probably could have stepped into the top six and perhaps had a scoring role. So it’s unfortunate for the Broncos from that perspective as well.
McCarron is a really intriguing prospect. The Canadiens have made a huge investment in him by making the big winger a first-round selection. Because of that investment, I can’t fault the Habs for steering their prospects one way or another. If they’re more comfortable with him in London, then that’s what they have to advise, I suppose.
In the end, I think players also have to know what’s best for them. What they need to improve on most should be a huge factor of consideration. Really solid arguments could be made for both paths at this point for McCarron. He should go wherever he feels will best serve his game. If all goes well, he’s going to be a really solid NHL player.
MacInnis to Leave NTDP & Other CHL Signings
A source with direct knowledge of the process has indicated Ryan MacInnis, a top American 1996-born player who spent last season with the NTDP’s Under-17 Team, is expected to sign with the Kitchener Rangers, forgoing his second year in Ann Arbor.
MacInnis has not yet been released from his player agreement at the NTDP, but all indications suggest he will be in order to sign with Kitchener in the coming weeks. This process can take a while sometimes.
The son of Al MacInnis has never committed to a college and it was always expected he would eventually report to Kitchener, however not this soon. His Hall of Fame father played parts of three seasons for Kitchener in his junior hockey days.
MacInnis is a big kid who played at 6-3, 170 last year. He had 25 points for the U17 team, but will need to do some rounding out.
I think he would’ve been fine had he stayed the extra year and then gone to Kitchener a bit more prepared. We’ll see how this impacts him.
MacInnis will be the second player from last year’s NTDP U17 Team to sign with an OHL team. Defenseman Joshua Wesley committed to the Plymouth Whalers earlier this summer. He is the son of former NHLer Glen Wesley.
The track record of players leaving the NTDP before the U18 season has not been great, with Anaheim Ducks forward Emerson Etem the only real success story in recent years. Time will tell which direction MacInnis and Wesley go.
The Whalers also picked up another big commit Wednesday as it was announced Connor Chatham had signed with the club. The now former University of Denver commit played one year at the NTDP before leaving for the USHL’s Omaha Lancers.
Chatham had 35 points in 63 games for the Lancers last year. A late 1995-born, he’s draft eligible for the first time in 2014 and should be selected.
In other de-commitment news, 1996-born Willy Smith signed with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. The Lenox, Mass., native had been committed to the University of Massachusetts previously.