If the best way to describe Michael McCarron’s 2013-2014 season was disappointment, then the best way to describe McCarron’s 2014-2015 season up to this point is dominant.
Just a short year ago, Michael McCarron was struggling to find his way in the OHL. As a rookie, McCarron dealt with a shoulder injury and limited minutes; however, it was his lack of conditioning, horrendous decision-making, and inability to apply his tools that really hindered him. Poor passing, zero physical presence, turnovers all plagued rendered him ineffective. The second half of the season saw notable progression, but it was clear that McCarron still needed to take leaps forward. Fast forward a season and McCarron is a new player. McCarron has significantly improved every single aspect of his game, and has emerged as one of the OHL’s top shutdown centres and arguably the top powerforward.
From game one, McCarron has had a monumental impact on the Knights’ lineup. Without McCarron, the Knights are just 3-6. With McCarron, the Knights are a staggering 12-2. Since rejoining the Knights, McCarron has solidified the lineup, filling the top-centre position, while drawing the top match ups away from the Mitchell Marner and Christian Dvorak line to his own. London’s powerplay sits third in the OHL at an impressive 29.4%, largely due to McCarron. Acting as the net front presence and slot shooter, McCarron has disrupted goaltenders and opened up passing lanes. McCarron has yet to rack up the powerplay points like his teammates (45% and 43% of Domi and Marner’s points have come from the powerplay, respectively; while 29% of McCarron’s points come on the powerplay), but he has been a tremendous contributor in that area.
|Points-Per-Game Before McCarron||Points-Per-Game Since McCarron's Return|
There are a variety of factors for this tremendous turnaround, including McCarron’s chemistry with Max Domi and Aaron Berisha. There is no denying that playing with one of CHL’s most purely skilled players has had a profound impact on McCarron. McCarron and Domi complement each other extremely well, as both players bring skill and intensity to every shift. McCarron has helped Domi improve just as much as a player as Domi has helped McCarron. Considering the fact that McCarron can not only keep up, but also often outplay Domi is encouraging. It shows that he has taken a massive leap forward leap in his development.
McCarron returned the Knights with greatly improved skating, and it showed immediately. The 6’6″ forward has always been a fairly quick player, but now he’s much faster. At any given time, McCarron is typically one of the fastest players on the ice, despite not owning the prettiest stride. McCarron’s still not particularly explosive; however, his first few steps are not as clumsy looking, and he’s much more balanced on his skates. There are still moments of awkwardness, but those will work their way out with time.
Since his return to the lineup, McCarron has been the Knights’ top defensive forward. As a centre, McCarron has excelled in the dot, and earned the role as the Knights’ go-to faceoff man. On the penalty kill, he has become aware of his surroundings and is out there on the first unit–even on 5-on-3s. His reach and speed allow him to break up plays with ease, especially in the neutral zone, and he rarely throws the puck away under pressure. Additionally, he has a unique ability to stymie the opposition’s cycle single-handedly.
McCarron’s newly found speed, acceleration, and balance allow him to use his physical tools to a greater extent. Standing at a massive 6’6″ 225-pounds, it’s expected that McCarron makes a physical presence. He didn’t do much of that last season, but this season he has been physically dominant. A previously weak and often uninspired hitter is now a punishing open-ice hitter and a fearsome force along the boards. And he doesn’t take himself out of position to go for the crushing hit, which allows him to stay consistently engaged in the play.
However, it’s not just McCarron’s improving strength that has made this turnaround possible–his skill level has improved significantly. Along the boards, off the rush, and around the crease, McCarron demonstrates soft hands. The soft hands in unison with the tremendous strength allow him to fend off multiple defenders with ease and dominate possession.
Previously, McCarron’s shot wasn’t particularly effective–he didn’t have the space to load up and he rarely hit the net. Now, he has shown quite the goal scoring ability. From long-range and around the net he’s emerging a legitimate threat. McCarron’s release is average, but once he gets it off, it’s a howitzer. There’s a lot of power behind his shot and he’s hitting the net with consistency. He has begun to link up with passes of high difficultly with regularity, showcasing his very good, if not great, passing skill and vision. He shows offensive creativity, which makes his increasingly common net drives even more difficult to handle for defenders.
All these tools are beginning to work harmoniously, and here are some of the magnificent results:
McCarron and Robby Fabbri are tangled up along the boards. Fabbri has body position on McCarron, and has him off-balance, but McCarron still manages to pass the puck up to Berisha (off screen), demonstrating strength, hand-eye coordination, and vision.
Thanks to McCarron’s impressive top-end speed, he’s able to leave Fabbri far behind. This forces Tyler Bertuzzi (#17) to pick up Fabbri’s assignment (McCarron) (NOTE: Fabbri was on the ice when the goal was scored). Berisha gains the zone, and McCarron slaps his stick on the ice calling for a drop pass.
Berisha is able to distract the defender. McCarron recognizes this and changes his path, slightly cutting wide and angling himself toward the net. The defender manages to get back in front of McCarron, but by then McCarron has loaded up a shot. Using the defender as a screen, McCarron picks the top corner, going bar down and in–a perfect shot.
Here’s another play, showcasing different areas of improvement:
Pay close attention to how McCarron wins multiple battles along the boards, fakes out a defender and drives the net, then continues to battle for the puck after having his attempted stymied. Even though he received just a secondary assist, the way he dominated possession and never gave up on the play is really special, and tremendous area of improvement. Just a short year ago, that play would have never happened.
The simple fact is: McCarron has always had excellent tools, it was just a matter of refining them. Certainly, the rawness of the tools was underestimated by many, myself included, but now he’s starting to show that he has them, and more. This is more than player improving his skills–this is player changing the way that he approaches the game. He has a new understanding, a new mentality and as a result he has emerged as a force.
With every passing game it seems as though McCarron gets better and better. He continually showcases new abilities. Even when he is not producing, he’s still involved in goals and the overall success of his team. He’s becoming a master at creating space for his teammates and a dominant puck possession player.
All of his tools still have lots of room to improve, which is tantalizing due to how good they have become in a short period of time. His decision-making can still be frustrating, and it will never be perfect, but now he’s showcasing a substantially higher level of smarts. There’s still a lengthy season ahead–plenty of time to answer the questions surrounding the sustainability of his current production and overall play.
Considering that McCarron has been a second half performer the past two seasons, it’s possible that his best in the OHL has yet to come.