Michael McCarron, like many grads of the U.S. national team development program, is at a rather vexing crossroads.
The towering 6-foot-5, 228-pound winger signed a letter of intent last November with the Western Michigan Broncos, where he would play for former NHL bench boss Andy Murray. But his major junior rights are held by the Memorial Cup-host London Knights and well, there is a tendency of big-bodied bruising forwards, following the draft to opt for the NHL-style schedule of major junior hockey. During the recent NHL combine, McCarron was candid about the difficulty of his decision, which he will not make until after the June 30 entry draft in Newark.
"I think it basically comes down to, 'where am I going to get better and where is going to get me to the NHL?' " says McCarron, who is NHL Central Scouting's 35th-ranked North American skater. "I'll talk to my family adviser and parents about that.
"More and more guys are coming out of college, but it's kind of hard to pass up how good of an opportunity I have in London with the Memorial Cup being there and [Knights GM] Mark Hunter passing on all those NHL guys."
There is a belief that some, not all, NHL teams have a greater comfort factor with prospects playing major junior instead of the NCAA. An X factor in this instance is that McCarron would be playing for a former NHL bench if he stays in his home state to play for WMU.
"It's a pretty attractive program," says McCarron. "Some coaches have really turned it around into a top five, top 10 program in the U.S.; Andy Murray, he's a really great coach."
McCarron uses his big frame and strength to good effect, playing a fairly meat-and-potatoes game. His draft slot might turn on whether a NHL team believes his ceiling is as a top-six forward or as more of a third-line player who brings some sandpaper with a modicum of scoring touch.
"I see myself as a power forward who can play anywhere in the lineup, having success anywhere from the first line to the fourth line and having success in the NHL," the Macomb, Mich., native says. "I think that's going to come if I keep progressing the way I am."
1. Every player your age needs to work on general attributes such as skating and strength, but is what is a specific area where you need to improve?
"Consistency — it's been a big topic lately. My first three steps and my stride. I think I'm a good skater, it's just my quickness and agility. I think I came along with my consistency in the second half of the year. In Sochi [at the IIHF under-18 championship] I thought i was consistent."
2. Which NHL player(s) do you study because he, or they, have a style that is close to what you aspire to do at that level someday?
"I have two guys: Milan Lucic and Rick Nash. Nash, the way he protects the puck and takes pucks to the net, I think I can have. The toughness of Lucic, I think I can have. That goes back to the idea that I can play on any line. Lucic, he can play on the third line and grind, or play on the first line."
3. USA Hockey has a long ramp-up for the IIHF under-18 world championship, yet this year the team you were won took silver behind Canada. How did you process that, coming up on the short end?
"I think we did give it our all. What I think happened was that we ran out gas and Canada ran out of gas in the third period of the gold-medal game. Canada just happened to come up with one more goal. Canada played an awesome game. We did too. They just capitalized.
"It doesn't always go your way. I don't know how else to describe it."
4. Hockey is such a 24/7, 12-month endeavour ... what do you like to do when you need to clear your mind of it for a bit?
"I like to golf with my brother and dad. I have some buddies who are scratch golfers, I also like to get out with them on the water. Sitting on the boat, catching some rays, that's a fun time."
5. Athletes have to be super-strict with nutrition, but be real for a second — what's your 'cheat food?'
"Ice cream, probably the cookies 'n' cream flavour."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.