2017 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #7 Michael McCarron

Michael McCarron has potential to bring that rare combination of size and skill to the NHL. | Photo: Colin Peddle, St. John’s IceCaps

This was a complex season for Michael McCarron. The 6’6″ forward got off to a slow start in the AHL, and was generally unimpressive in the NHL.

Yet, there are still reasons to be optimistic about McCarron’s chances of carving out an NHL career. When he was on, he was able to dominate AHL games. Perhaps his offensive upside is less than what I once believed, but there’s still upside here as unique force, even if it’s near the bottom of the line up.

McCarron has been a divisive prospect since the draft. His development has had a series of highs and lows, but there’s always a constant defence of “big players take longer to develop.” While this is a common appeal to common belief, is this really true?

In addition to McCarron’s report, this article will seek to answer that question, and then explain why McCarron’s NHL results are so far away from his NHL results. It will wrap up with the ranking explanation that compares McCarron to similar prospects at this stage in development.

#7) MICHAEL McCARRON
Midseason: #5 | 2016: #4 | 2015: #5 | 2014: #8
Acquired: 2013, 1st round, 25th overall
Position: C/RW | Shoots: R
Birthdate: 1995-03-07 | Nationality: USA
Team: St. John’s IceCaps (AHL)

Height: 6’6 (197cm) | Weight: 238 (108kg)

Series Navigation:
Top 30 Prospects: Ranking Methodology – Integrating Statistics into Analysis
Top 30 Prospects: #30 – #26 – Success Rates of Swedish Jr. and USHS Defenders
Top 30 Prospects: #25 – #21 – Success Rates of CHL Overage Forwards
Top 30 Prospects: #20 – #16 – Balancing Players with Opposing Skill Sets and Development
Top 30 Prospects: #15 – #11 – Weighing perceived NHL-readiness with NHL Upside
Top 30 Prospects: #10 Will Bitten – Why His Season Was Better Than You Think
Top 30 Prospects: #9 Victor Mete – How Undersized Defenders Can Excel Defensively
Top 30 Prospects: #8 Josh Brook – Improving Shooting Location Through Movement
Top 30 Prospects: #7 Michael McCarron – Do Big Players Really Take Longer to Develop?
Top 30 Prospects: #6 Charlie Lindgren – The Reverse-VH and When Skill Takes Over
Top 30 Prospects: #5 Charles Hudon – A Case Study on the Impact of Aging for NHL Chances
Top 30 Prospects: #4 Joni Ikonen – Multidimensionality in Attack
Top 30 Prospects: #3 Nikita Scherbak – Comparing Scherbak In and Out of Form
Top 30 Prospects: #2 Noah Juulsen – How to Excel at Defending the Blue Line
Top 30 Prospects: #1 Ryan Poehling – Full Breakdown, Importance of Little Details, and More

Do “Big Players” Really Take Longer to Develop?

As I do frequently, I’m calling this hockey “adage” into question because of genuine curiosity. Although it is commonly said, how much truth is there to this statement, particularly with regards to players who enter the AHL as scoring prospects like McCarron did?

Let’s begin with the explaining the parameters of this experiment.

I narrowed the focus of players to AHL single-seasons from 2005-2014. I examined a pool of players who produced at a roughly similar pace to McCarron’s 20-year-old AHL season (0.66 P/GP) and his 21-year-old AHL season (0.59 P/GP) at the same age. I also included G/GP in the parameters.

I then divided the players into the test group, a.k.a. generally-large-but-not-quite-as-large-as-McCarron group (minimum 6’2″ and/or 220 lbs) and the control group, average and smaller players (less than 6’2″ and/or 220 lbs) for the control group.

The control group yield tons of results, as you can imagine, while the test group contained a meagre (but actually very large) 25 players.

In this simple experiment, I used 100GP in the NHL as a barometer for “making the NHL,” and 200GP for carving out an NHL career.

Both the tall forwards group and the lesser-sized players hit 100GP in the NHL around the same age–23-269 and 23-211 (Years-Days), respectively.

The argument is generally that bigger forwards take longer to develop not necessarily make the NHL. So to tackle this point a bit without getting muddied in the specifics of what makes a good NHL player, I looked at the average age of the players in the groups that hit 200GP in the NHL (i.e., to have a career in the NHL) played 100GP in the NHL. The reason for organizing it like this was to sort out the players who NHL journeymen from the players who were NHL regulars. Essentially, it places emphasis on players who had careers (200GP+), without marginalizing them for hitting 100GP later than their journeymen counterparts.

Once again, the results were very close. The larger players who carved out an NHL career hit 100 NHL GP at an average age of 23-168. The control group of average-sized and mighty mites reached the same milestone at virtually the exact same age, 23-102.

If you want to get brutally specific, I also did a fun little experiment with the big boys once again. I took all the McCarron-sized (6’5″+) non-goon forwards who’ve played in the NHL since 2005 and figured out at which age they hit 100GP and then again when they carved out an NHL career.

For the McCarron-sized players who played 200 NHL GP, they hit 100 NHL GP at an average age of 23-143, which isn’t particularly different than the average-sized players hitting the same milestones at an average age of 23-102.

Large (Test Group)Regular-Small (Control Group)McCarron-sized
Age Hit 100GP23-26923-21123-142
Age Hit 100GP and Carved Out NHL Career23-16823-10223-142

So, within the parameters of this experiment, the evidence suggests that bigger players do not take significantly longer than their smaller counterparts.

Notice how players who go on to carve out NHL careers generally hit 100 NHL GP around 100 days early than the players who hit 100GP and never made it further–for both the test and control group. The earlier a player, at least in this group, hits 100 NHL GP, the more likely they are to carve out an NHL career.

Marcus Foligno, Adam Lowry, Coyle Coyle, Nick Bjugstad, Martin Hanzal, and Chris Stewart are some of the notable big player names who either played 100GP before McCarron’s current age, or 100GP at age that McCarron won’t beat or equal.

This is, of course, a limited experiment. The first portion focuses on merely AHL forwards, particularly ones that score at round the same rate as McCarron. This are generally players who enter the AHL already being quality players. An idea for a future experiment is to take all larger forwards and then compare them to all smaller prospects.

In the case of McCarron, and other big players who have a decent scoring track record, I propose that instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt because of their size, we evaluate McCarron as we would any other decent scoring prospect–With enough nuance to discern important developmental details without missing the big picture of, the earlier a prospect makes the NHL, generally the better that prospect become.

The Hurdle

LeagueGPGAPP1SOGSH%G/GP1A/GPP/GPP1/GP5v5 P1/GPSOG/GPCF.Rel%GF.Rel%
AHL327121916739.59%0.220.280.590.50.342.288.53-0.08%
NHL321454313.20%0.030.090.160.120.120.97-2.30%-16.65%

The NHL has been a massive step for McCarron. He goes from playing like a top-six centre in the AHL to a fringe NHL player. The third-best CF% on the IceCaps turned to a -5.7 CF Rel% and -16.65% GF Rel% in the NHL, and virtually unable to generate shots on goal or points. I believe there are a couple factors at work here, some of which are likely obvious:

(1) Skating: McCarron isn’t slow. In fact, his open ice speed is fine. Most of skating attributions are NHL-level, but acceleration (starting from a stand still) is problematic, which is the most important one. The AHL is fast, but the NHL requires more stops and starts, quick acceleration, and short-burst explosion. McCarron achieves adequate knee bend, but begins his stride with his base too wide. The most problematic part is a lack of explosion from his legs–he simply doesn’t generation enough power. It stems from a lack of leg strength and an aggressive, noisy downward push that expends too much energy for power generated. Some players never build that explosive separation gear, but improving his strength and hip activation will make a difference.

(2) Pace: McCarron doesn’t make possession decisions quick enough. He excels at drawing attention to himself with his size and desire to challenge forwards along the boards, but he won’t move the puck quick enough. Instead, he tries to maintain possession along the wall for too long, often resulting in him killing the play. This is a problem in the AHL, too, albeit a lesser one. In the NHL, he doesn’t recognize lanes quick enough to get open, or to drive the net. He’ll make the odd nice play in stride in the AHL, but it clearly won’t be component in his game in the NHL.

(3) Skill: McCarron isn’t lacking in skills, it’s more of a lack of refinement. McCarron’s shot has improved significantly since draft day, but the release could stand to be quickened. Passing is an underrated strength of McCarron’s, but he can struggle with the odd easy pass.

Another way to look at this would be to examine the data gathered by Ryan Stimson’s Passing Project and Corey Sznajder.

Michael McCarron is green, Jacob de la Rose is light blue. Data from the Ryan Stimson’s Passing Project. Full data and visualizations can be found here: LINK

McCarron falls just around the 75th percentile for NHL forwards in transitional play, build up play, shot volume, and total shot contributions. While he lags behind in shot assists and dangerous shots (just above the 25th percentile), these are very encouraging numbers, albeit with the limited sample size.

While I’d generally argue result-based statistics are more important than the microstats, McCarron’s brutal GF Rel% was a product of a 21 mere goals and a shade over 300 minutes of ice time. It’s a limited sample–one to keep in mind, absolutely–but perhaps not wholly indicative of his actual NHL ability, or potential NHL ability.

The Report

McCarron has been a divisive prospect since being drafted in 2013, and I don’t expected that to change if he makes the NHL full-time. At 6’6″, McCarron is a rare breed in the NHL, and while his skill level is above-average, it’s inconsistent and often under-utilized. While his GF Rel% doesn’t indicate player who driving the play, he was the third best CF Rel% in the games I tracked. Additionally, he was among the best U23 players in A1/GP, ES A1/GP, and SOG/GP. While he struggled to finish in the AHL this season, he’s a more capable finisher than it would indicate.

McCarron is a capable finisher thanks to a variety of complementary tools. He’s quick on loose pucks around the net, and can elevate pucks without delay. Strong and determined, he finishes on second and third chances. Although usually the biggest player on the ice, he has a knack for sneaking away from defenders and getting open. Although armed with one of the hardest shots in the prospect pool, he is hesitant to use it off the rush. He’ll score with the odd redirection with his hand-eye coordination, but is generally best at simply blocking the goaltender’s view. While capable, he rarely use his reach to beat goaltenders, and seems less comfortable on his backhand.

As shown in the radar chart in the previous section, McCarron transitions the puck well. This is also apparent in the AHL, where he was top-three among IceCaps forwards (in the games I tracked) in controlled exits and controlled exit success rate. He’s incredibly successful with carry-outs, and shockingly good at pass exits. He lacks a bit of confidence while carrying the puck across the offensive blue line, as evident by his reliance on uncontrolled entries.

Once gaining the offensive zone, McCarron likes to initiate the cycle, or occasionally drive the net. If given space, he can do some serious damage by unloading a hard shot or finding a teammate with a nice pass off the rush.

If not, McCarron will not create space off the rush for himself, instead he cycles until he finds a lane. Here’s an example of when this works well:

McCarron isn’t given much room, so he takes the outside lane. McCarron has three defenders focused on him as he heads in the corner. One peels off, but the 6’6′” commands a lot of respect along the boards, so they double him up. A hard stop shakes one defender, then McCarron pulls the puck in and makes a deft backhand between-the-legs pass to Terry. This created space for Chris Terry to fire off a shot. So, while McCarron rarely creates space for himself, he does a fair bit for his teammates.

If there is a problem in this element, it’s that McCarron often hesitates or fails to recognize the lane. While he doesn’t in the above clip, he has a tendency to endlessly cycle until the play dies on his stick. When McCarron keeps the puck on his stick for quick touches, he finds success. The key is for the these touches to be purposeful, and immediately following when extra attention is attracted.

One thing McCarron has excelled at since his junior days is the “little details,” whether that be a key takeaway on the backcheck, a slippery steal on the forecheck, or a sneaky tie-up to create space. He’s the type of player who with a sneaky whack of a stick will create a passing lane for a teammate, or push a defender away just as a puck comes to the net.

McCarron is also a dedicated defensive player with a knack for disrupting plays on the backcheck. He positions himself in smart, supportive areas, and rarely loses his man. McCarron isn’t a particularly physical player, but will throw the odd crushing hit.

Next season is key for McCarron. The Habs have plenty of depth up front, so it seems like McCarron could spend this season in the AHL, where a big uptick in production is expected. In particular, it’s important for skill development, as quickening his release, improving his stride, and making puck decisions quicker could give him the extra jump he needs to make the NHL.

Ranking Explanation: I’m a little uncomfortable with this ranking. When you create an extensive methodology for building a list, it’s imperative you stick to it, even if some of the results make uncomfortable. McCarron is closer to the NHL than the others in the tier, and since that’s the main parameter for deciding how the order of the tiers goes, that’s why he’s here.

Anyways, let’s how comparable prospects to McCarron went on to perform in the NHL.

I compiled all the 6’2″-plus and/or 220-pound-plus forwards who played in the AHL from 2005-2014. Then, I controlled for scoring paces similar to McCarron’s, and ran through all the similar players.

For McCarron’s strong 2015-16 AHL rookie campaign in his 20-year-old season, there were 12 matches. 11 went on to play 100 NHL games (91.67%!), while nine (and soon to be 10 with Brett Ritchie) went on to play 200 NHL games (75%). The P/GP average of players who hit at least 200 GP was 0.49, G/GP was 0.22, roughly 18 goals and 40 points per season–very respectable.

McCarron’s P/GP was above the average of the successful NHL group, and even ahead of players like Marcus Foligno, Patrick Maroon, Chris Stewart, and Charlie Coyle.

 

The same test for McCarron’s 2016-17 season sees his production quite a bit below the average of the players who became useful NHLers. Patrick Maroon remains a close comparison and Joe Colborne appears, but he’s also surrounded by failed NHLers like Luca Caputi, Carter Ashton, and Keven Veilleux. While number of overall comparables increases by two, the success rates drop significantly. Eight players hit at least 100 NHL GP (57.1%) and five hit 200 NHL GP (35.7%).

The scoring production also takes a tumble, as the P/GP clip of those who hit 200 NHL GP drops from 0.49 to 0.36 and G/GP from 0.22 to 0.17.

 

Even though McCarron spent half of the season in the NHL, his downtick in production is disheartening. The majority of his comparables changed because the majority of McCarron’s 2015-16 cohorts went on to improve their AHL P/GP by around 0.1 per game and/or play in the NHL and be more useful NHLers than McCarron was this past season. 

For example, Marcus Foligno split his 21-year-old season between the NHL and AHL, in which he posted 0.38 P/GP and 0.82 P/GP, respectively. Eric Fehr was over 1.0 P/GP in the AHL, Charlie Coyle became a legitimate third liner in the NHL, Chris Stewart was an NHLer, and so on.

McCarron’s professional career got off the a very encouraging start with 91.67% of players of similar production, age, and size hitting 100 NHL GP and 75% hitting 200GP; however, as McCarron played his 21-year-old season most of the quality comparable players became better players than McCarron in the NHL and/or AHL. As a result, the new comparable players went onto play 100 NHL GP 35% less of the time, and 200 NHL GP 39.3% less of the time.

It’s now important to remember the findings from the first portion of the article: The results suggest players who follow similar development as McCarron generally do not take significantly longer than their smaller counterparts.

The average age of hitting 100GP and going on carve out an NHL career was 23 years and 168 days. McCarron is currently 22 years and 153 days. To reach this 100GP milestone by that 23-168, McCarron will have to play 49 games in the next season.

With waiver exemption expiring at the end of next season and odds becoming against McCarron, the clocking is creeping up quickly. However, with 51 NHL GP already under his belt, and the skill level to have a big season in the AHL if that’s where he plays, there’s still reason to be positive with McCarron’s NHL chances.

Notes:

  1. All the information is “in my opinion.
  2. The ranking likely has limited-to-no value. Think of the ranking as a way to catalogue players, notes, and data in a non-alphabetical way. The information within the profiles is far, far more valuable.
  3. I mentioned I’m not a scout right? If not, I’m not a scout.
  4. I appreciate all questions, comments, and criticism. You can reach me on Twitter (@MitchLBrown) or email (mitchbrown31@gmail.com). You can also tell me I suck. I don’t care.
  5. AHL/CHL/USHL Stats: Prospect-Stats.com | NCAA Stats: CollegeHockeyInc.com | SuperElit Stats: Stats.SweHockey.se | NHL Stats: Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com

The list so far…

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One Response to 2017 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #7 Michael McCarron

  1. Cool read, always had a soft spot for Big Mac because I see a lot of those “small things” he does to help teammates. Always impressed by his back checks and returning deep in his own zone to support his dmen and help breakouts, reminds me of classic red wing centres who were always coming back deep allowing for shorter passes on the breakouts as well as preventing dmen being outnumbered down low.
    Really hoping he gets a full season in the AHL to play bigger minutes with relatively higher quality line mates as I feel he could be a great third line centre with pp potential as he is great regaining possession after shot attempts and excellent screen/deflection man as well. And I see a need for a solid third line centre in the organization starting in 2018-2019 season. Hopefully he isn’t stuck in press box or on fourth line all year in NHL and also put in position where he feels need to fight heavyweights. He holds his own but has much more to bring to the table, save the scraps for special circumstances when a message needs to be sent to stay away from our stars ie CP31!
    Good article tho even though some glaring typos and grammatical errors. Cheers

    Rick August 9, 2017 at 2:28 pm Reply

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