Sunday, 14 July 2013

Michael McCarron chooses to become a London Knight. And he didn't ask us for our opinion. For shame.

Canadiens fans often get drawn into minutiae, and I think Michael McCarron's decision to become a London Knight is one of these instances.  The Canadiens first-round pick had the choice to either attend Western Michigan University and play under Coach Andy Murray, a talented hockey man who formerly was head coach of the St. Louis Blues and L.A. Kings, or go join the brothers Hunter's NHL player factory in the OHL.

Offhand, the NCAA route had some potential advantages, and so did the London Knights route.  We thought he'd get more skills development time at Western Michigan, with more time for lifting in the gym, and that he'd be in an environment where he could concentrate on hockey and not be constantly challenged to fight, since it's forbidden to do so in the NCAA.  Meanwhile, he could get more practice time, more game action and stronger competition in the OHL, and maybe the fact that more rough stuff is allowed in junior hockey would play to his strengths and allow him to develop his physical side more fully.  Both of these are reasonable assessments.

Somehow though, we all made up our minds as to which path we'd like him to make based on these perfunctory assessments, and some of us are disappointed in the outcome, and already making pronouncements on how this will turn out.  In reality, we have to understand that both routes he could have chosen were good options, and he had great advice from his former coaches, the coaches at the teams competing for his services, and the Canadiens organization.  He chose London, it's probably the right one for him to make since he has all the information, and it's one of the two good paths he could go on, not the 'wrong' choice.

As for whether he'll get first or second-line minutes on a stacked Knight roster that will load up some more in preparation for a Memorial Cup automatic slot, that's a concern, and surely one everybody foresaw, took into account, and maybe he had some assurances about.  In any case, if he's having to work hard to get powerplay time and icetime, maybe that's not a bad scenario, maybe he can't sit on his butt as he could if he was the big fish in a small pond.

The "will he have to fight too much" issue is one of note.  Observers of the OHL point out that Junior enforcer types will often challenge a high-profile prospect to make a name for themselves and hope to earn a pro contract, but again, we have to know that the Canadiens, through Director of Player Development Martin Lapointe, have sussed this out with the Hunters, and that it's not a dealbreaker, they've come to some understanding.  Martin Lapointe and Marc Bergevin will tell the kid to not waste his time fighting goons, to work on his skating and puck skills instead, to work on being a reliable forward the coaches can use in many situations, that's what will get him a long NHL career.  Jarred Tinordi did fight quite a bit in junior, but it doesn't seem to have derailed his development, he still mostly worked on his game and became a first pairing defenceman on the Knights, we can hope for more of the same for our new shiny prospect.

Some fans are seeing subterfuge and underhanded dealings in how he got to sign a contract with the Canadiens, as if it was done to force his decision in the direction of London.  This is another way that the narrative escapes what we know as a fact, and mutates into a legend that becomes canon.  Nowhere do I see any indication of any backdoor dealings.  All that happened is that, since Mr. McCarron chose to go the OHL route, he was permitted to sign his NHL contract, something he wouldn't have been allowed to if he went the NCAA route, since it would void his amateur status.  So that's all that happened.  Had he chosen to play at Western Michigan, he wouldn't have been allowed to sign his contract for that duration, but it would have been waiting for him as soon as he left the school.  It's a mere formality: OHL=contract, NCAA=(sh)amateur status.

So let's see this as the best decision the young man could take in his situation with the help of his support team and parents, and rejoice that he will have an opportunity to play hockey at a high level in the OHL, in the playoffs and Memorial Cup, with a strong organization that turns out quality NHL players, along with a chance to play in the World Junior Championship if he makes the U.S. roster.  That's a busy schedule for a young man, and we wish him all the best while he takes on these challenges.

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