The Holiday classic is finally underway in Toronto and Montreal. Young prospects showcasing their skills to the world, hoping to catch the eye of NHL scouts and for those who already have, showing the interest was justified. Fans are excited to see prospects of their favorite teams performing on the biggest stage, against the best competition, and on prime time television.
The Montreal Canadiens will open the doors of their cupboard wide open as they have 4 of their prospects playing in the tournament. Surprisingly, none of them have been drafted in the first round. The Habs’ first round choices in the last two NHL entry drafts, Michael McCarron and Nikita Scherbak, were eligible to play in the tournament but were cut or in Scherbak’s case completely ignored.
Other than top five picks Alex Galchenyuk and Carey Price, Montreal first rounders of the last decade have been gambles and not all of them paid off. Nathan Beaulieu is scrapping to become an NHL regular, Jarred Tinordi is playing a strong game in the AHL but positioning at NHL speed still eludes him. Max Pacioretty is almost captain of the Canadiens while Ryan McDonagh is captain of the New York Rangers. Louis Leblanc, Danny Kristo, David Fischer and Kyle Chipchura never got to make a sensible contribution to the Canadiens’ success and were either traded away or not re-signed, some of them before even playing one game in a Habs uniform.
This raises some questions. Montreal management has stated that their chosen path to success was through the draft. Shaping and molding players to play hockey the Canadiens way and raise them to be strong contributors to the team’s success. But now the World Juniors Championship is in the Canadiens backyard and their top two prospects are nowhere to be seen. Is that a sign of things to come? Is there a black cloud in the Habs’ horizon?
Preliminary roster for U.S. National Junior Team trimmed by three with F Adam Erne, F Michael McCarron and D Jack Dougherty being released.
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) December 20, 2014
The Macomb, Michigan native was drafted in the first round, 25th overall by the Habs in the 2013 Draft.
McCarron is a product of the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP). In 2011-12, he played for the US National Under -17 Team in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Already taking advantage of his size, McCarron earned a team-leading 128 minutes in the box. More than just a bruiser, the 6’5 power forward chipped in offensively with 6 goals and 21 assists for 27 points in 53 games. No stranger to pressure, he helped tying a semifinal game against Sweden by scoring his only goal of the U17 Four Nations Tournament.
Returning to the USNTDP in his draft year, McCarron played 55 games in Ann Arbor, upping his point total from 27 to 34, and his PIM from 128 to 180. Again he contributed to the US National Team’s success. In the Under-18 World Junior Championship, Michael McCarron contributed 5 points in 7 games, one of these points being a goal in a 3-2 losing effort against Canada in the gold medal game.
In 2013-14, now part of the Canadiens organization, McCarron went back on his commitment to play for the USNTDP at Michigan University and instead crossed the border to join the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. His first season in Canada was underwhelming to say the least. He suffered a first degree separation of the AC joint in the shoulder in his second game with the Knights, everything after that was an uphill battle. McCarron had trouble adjusting to the speed of the game as well as the much busier schedule. He never cracked the top 6 and averaged just under 12 minutes a game. He finished the season with 34 points in 66 games.
McCarron was off to a bad start again this year. In a pre-season game against the Boston Bruins, the power forward hurt his shoulder and was sidelined for the first 6 weeks of the season. McCarron took the disappointment as a challenge to get better. In 23 games this year, he accumulated 33 points, 1 less than his 66-games total last year. He not only cracked the top 6, but cracked the top 3. He is a mainstay on the Knights’ top line on the right of centre Max Domi. On Halloween night, McCarron scored 2 goals and helped set up 3 more in a 5 points night against Sault Ste-Marie.
Despite his powerful forechecking game and playing for the USNTDP in multiple international tournaments, McCarron was passed over at right wing. The US National Team went with Jack Eichel’s linemate Alex Tuch (Boston College, 5-6-11, 17GP), Nick Schmaltz (N. Dakota U, 3-12-15, 15 GP), Hudson Fasching (Minnesota U, 5-2-7, 14GP), John Hayden (Yale U, 3-7-10, 10GP) and 13th forward Anthony Louis (Miami U, 3-11-14, 16GP). Despite being bigger, more experienced and having proven himself in high-pressure situations, Michael McCarron is watching the tournament at home. Is it a question of ability, chemistry or style of play? How can a 6’6, 229lbs guy, who can play both centre and right wing, that averages 1.43 points per game in the OHL, not be good enough to play in the US Team’s top 9, or even top 12? Maybe it’s not how he plays but where he plays.
Born in Moscow, the Canadiens 2014 first round pick joined Russia’s Under-22 MHL at 16 years old. In 50 games with Stupino Kapitan, Scherbak posted 14 points, scoring 7 goals. He decided to cross the Atlantic the following year to play for the Saskatoon Blades where he led the WHL in rookie scoring with 78 points.
Earlier this season, Scherback was traded from Saskatoon per WHL rules stipulating that no more than 2 non North-American players be on a team at anytime. He was then traded to the much stronger Everett Silvertips and given a chance to win at the junior level. Scherbak answered in spades, exploding on the scene with 42 points in 27 games so far this season. His estimated time on ice is 26.61, a TeamGoals% of 13.64, a TeamPoints% of 38.18, and averages 1.56 Point per Game. His first chance to represent Russia would come in the form of the Subway Super Series against the WHL. Scherback didn’t create much offensively for his team during the series, but kept to strong fundamentals and helped his team grab the 2 wins.
Only one right winger from the CHL made the Russian National Team, Sergei Tolchinsky of the Sault Ste-Marie Greyhounds (17-32-49, 32GP) was chosen and projected to be on the top line while even if his stats are less impressive than Scherbak’s who wasn’t even invited to the preliminary camp; 10.9 TeamGoals%, 31.41 TeamPoints%, 1.53 PPG and an estimated time on ice of 22.94. However Tolchinsky played for Russia in international tournaments every year since he was 16.
It’s important to remember that as much as the World Junior Championship is a chance for young players to showcase their skills, it is a chance for countries to show up their hockey development program. Russia will favor players playing in the MHL or KHL over those that play in the CHL. The United States will favor those that play in the USTNDP. The United States only have 4 players out of 23 playing in the CHL. Left Wingers Chase De Leo and Sonny Milano, Defenseman Anthony D’Angelo and backup goaltender Brendon Halverson. Russia has 4 players playing in North America, defensemen Ivan Provorov and Rinat Valiev as well as forwards Ivan Barbashyov and Sergei Tolchinsky
Canada is not above chauvinism either. For the third straight year, all 23 players on the 2015 WJC team are playing or have played junior in the CHL. Since Jaden Schwartz (Colorado College) represented his country at the 2012 World Juniors.
The tournament is not the nationalistic best-there-is they would have you believe but rather a battle of development systems. McCarron got the snub for turning his back on the program and Scherbak was flat out never part of his country’s. They are indubitably blue chips prospect and their CHL play this year is a strong indication. Players that dominate at peer level in top-tier junior usually make it to the NHL. Scherback and McCarron shouldn’t be any different.