Despite the multiple injuries throughout the Canadiens’ lineup, the team continues to produce points and perform well. The seven game road trip to start the year is an example of the team’s success in the face of adversity.
The trip covered 11,288 kilometers including games against Western Conference and division rivals. The trip culminated with an exciting win at the Air Canada Centre versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. The trip earned the Canadiens a 4-1-2 giving them 10 out of a possible 14 points.
Despite the multitude of injuries, this level of success is partly due to the play of the many St. John’s IceCaps players that have been called up. One notable player in this successful run is Michael McCarron.
In the preseason, McCarron made an appearance in four games in six nights. He averaged over 15 minutes per game and was effective at both ends of the ice. It is clear that his 20-game NHL apprenticeship last season allowed him to gain a better understanding of his role as a professional at the highest level and how to attack it.
Despite this leap in progression, management decided that he should further develop his game in the AHL. In my opinion, this is due in part to his contract allowing him to be sent down to the AHL without clearing waivers. Despite the setback, McCarron was able to continue his strong play. He had done well enough to earn a call-up once the center depth on the Canadiens began filling up the sick bay.
Many young players do not respond well from these perceived setbacks. As any professional, they aim to be the best, and that means being in the NHL. McCarron was given an opportunity to prove his worth, and he seized that opportunity. In his 15 games (as of January 15th), McCarron has one goal, four points and is a plus one. He is also playing an average of 10 minutes per game.
His work ethic and singular focus during his off-season training has paid off. His training to increase his speed has been a tremendous help to his overall game. He is now able to keep pace with the NHL opposition he faces.
McCarron’s increased speed allows him to win foot races and get to loose pucks. He has also been able to win most of his one-on-one battles along the boards due to his aggressive play and the use of his reach and size advantage.
This style has allowed him to create space for his line mates and gain puck possession allowing him to showcase his playmaking skills. These skills can allow him to play a complimentary role with more skilled players.
McCarron’s ability to play a complimentary role with skilled players is showcased as he is used on the top power-play unit as the net-front presence. He does an admirable job of wreaking havoc with opposing goalies’ line of sight. He has also caused defensemen fits in even strength play, as they are unable to move his massive frame from the front of the net or along the boards.
There are a few things to work on. McCarron’s face-off winning percentage is 40. 4, respectable for such a young player. But any improvements should come at the NHL level. McCarron has nothing more to learn in the AHL.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) January 16, 2017
On Monday’s game in Detroit, McCarron will find himself in the press box giving way to Jacob De La Rose. This is primarily due to the position he plays. McCarron was placed on the wing on Saturday against the Rangers, a place that he looks less comfortable than at his familiar centre spot.
Overall, McCarron has shown himself to be an asset to his team and has proven that he is NHL-ready. His current play has demonstrated that he is an NHL-caliber centerman capable of bottom-six play.
McCarron is also very capable when it comes to defending his teammates. His willingness to step up for the team has not gone unnoticed. This was most notably shown against league heavyweight, Matt Martin of the Maple Leafs, when McCarron was able to fight him to a draw.
McCarron’s size and ability to fight adds an intimidation factor to his burgeoning power forward status. Although this isn’t an aspect of his game that comes up often (he has had two fights in his 12 games), it is one that leaves opponents to think twice.
The issue facing the AHL call-ups is when the injured begin to return in the coming weeks. As the many injured forwards return, IceCaps will begin to be returned to the AHL. The return of David Desharnais from the long-term injured reserved (LTIR), however, will be the cue for Marc Bergevin to make the tough choices for the roster. Will he decide to return McCarron to the AHL, or will Desharnais keep his position?
The youth are breathing down Desharnais’ neck. His diminishing effectiveness in the NHL is what is allowing them to threaten his position. His nine points in 25 games before he was injured aren’t helping his case either.
Desharnais has been displaced on the depth chart by younger, stronger, and more talented players for a top-nine role. Most notably is the play of young McCarron. Moving forward, it has become clear that Desharnais does not fit into the future plans of the Canadiens, who are trying to become a more physical team mixed with speed and skill.
Unfortunately, the choice will not be solely based on merit. The salary cap has its downfalls, and this is one of them. The choice will depend on if Bergevin can find a trade partner for the last months of Desharnais’ contract.
If he cannot find a trade, waiving Desharnais can be an option. However, waiving him would only save $950,000 from the salary cap, which is more than enough to cover any of the youth moving up. Yet, that would yield approximately $2.5 million in ‘wasted’ cap space.
That space is in addition to $1.33 million this year for the P.A. Parenteau buyout. That amount of dead cap space handcuffs Bergevin at the trade deadline with very little room to maneuver under the cap. That said, both of these contracts will be off the books this summer.
The most likely scenario that will play out will see Desharnais finishing the season in a Canadiens sweater before he is allowed to leave via free agency. This will likely leave McCarron to complete his season in St. John’s.
If McCarron is unable to stay in Montreal, it will be due to management’s inability to shed an NHL contract from the roster to open up a position. That said, even if McCarron is returned to the AHL, it is a safe bet that he has done everything a young player needs to do to earn an NHL roster spot.