Sunday, 29 March 2015

Michael McCarron playing centre? In the NHL?

I’m fast-forwarding through Friday night’s Generals-Petes game, and I’m intrigued by the fact that Michael McCarron is still playing centre, this time on the second line, after playing first line centre with Max Domi this season in London, and a lot of third and fourth-line centre last season.

We were surprised that he got moved to centre last season, almost suspicious, since it is Dale Hunter after all who made this decision, and I’m going to take anything he does with a shovelful of salt that’s being crosschecked in the back of my head, but his new coach in Oshawa kept up the experiment. And maybe experiment isn’t the right word.

Lots of players in Junior assume a role that they’re not destined to play in the pros. Two-way defencemen quarterback the powerplay in junior, à la Morgan Ellis. Checking, grinding centres play the first line, à la Bo Horvat or Jackson Houck. So yeah, against lesser competition, as they mature, junior players assume more responsibility that’s not likely to devolve to them as they move up the ladder.

And yeah, it’s common for forwards in the pros to have played a lot of centre in junior, and forwards in junior to have played a lot of centre in minor hockey. If you’re the best or one of the best players on your team, your coach will put you in the middle so you can have a greater impact on the game, but once you’re up against players who can compete with you, they’ll put you in a position where your skills align better with the role of your position.

So I don’t expect Mike McCarron to play centre in Hamilton, beyond maybe taking a few draws, something he’s apparently good at, and which he can do on his strong side if the coach prefers a rightie to a leftie. Martin Lapointe scoffed last summer when asked about this, how the Canadiens hadn’t expected him to play centre in London, but that it wouldn’t harm him, he’d learn quite a bit playing there.

Mike will be a rangy, heavy right winger in the pros, starting next season. Guaranteed.

Except, this year there aren’t ‘enough’ centres in the prospect pool in the AHL. So much so that Charles Hudon got an extended tryout there, and he said it was the first time he’d ever played centre, at any level. Next season, there is Jérémy Grégoire graduating to the pros who plays centre, but he might be one of those prospects who’s better suited to the wing at the next level.

Might it be possible that Mike McCarron gets some time at centre, a tryout? He’d need to radically improve his skating, but could he eventually be that big centre you deploy against a Joe Thornton or Ryan Getzlaf in the defensive zone? Someone who falls somewhere in the range of a Paul Gaustad to Joel Otto, in that continuum? Hopefully tending to the Otto end of the spectrum?

I know, pretty fanciful, but if other fans can trade Zach Fucale, Darren Dietz and a second for Nail Yakupov on social media, let me dream of better days too.

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