BROSSARD – For 56 prospects and invitees looking to showcase their skills, the start of the Canadiens’ annual development camp on Wednesday marked a much-anticipated occasion.
Returning to Montreal for the first time since participating in the Canadiens’ pre-draft Combine in early June, first-round selection Michael McCarron spent the early part of the day coming to terms with his new surroundings at the Bell Sports Complex. Fresh off being selected 25th overall by the Habs on Sunday evening in New Jersey, the USNTDP product is looking to make the most out of the development camp experience.
“When I came here, I didn’t know what to expect,” admitted the Macomb, MI native, who checked in at 6-foot-5 ½ and 235 pounds during Wednesday morning’s off-ice testing session. “I didn’t know how much they liked me. Now, I’m here and I was drafted by them. It’s a really cool moment here. This is my first time in front of all of this media. It’s kind of a dream come true. You see all of your favorite players growing up around here, and now I’m here, so it’s pretty cool.”
Less than 72 hours after hearing his name called at the Prudential Center, McCarron is planning to spend his time in Brossard showcasing different aspects of his game and learning as much as possible about life in the professional ranks.
“I want to show toughness and my skill, too. I don’t want to be known as just a tough guy. Obviously, it’s a huge part of my game, but I can bring the other part too and I’m a good mixture of it,” confided McCarron, who has yet to decide whether he’ll suit up for Western Michigan University or head to the OHL’s London Knights come September.
“I think I still need to work on my quickness and being ready to play every night,” added the USHL graduate. “Some nights I’m good and some nights I’m average. When you’re up here, you need to be good every night, so I need to work on my consistency as well.”
While McCarron and the 55 other attendees on site had at least a few days to prepare themselves for development camp sessions in Brossard, right winger Christian Thomas wasn’t afforded a similar luxury. Acquired from the Rangers late Tuesday afternoon in exchange for prospect Danny Kristo, the 21-year-old only had a few hours to ready himself for the trip north of the border.
“I woke up from a nap after a training day in New York and I had a phone call from my dad [former NHLer Steve Thomas] and he asked me if I figured out that I’d been traded. I said that I had no clue what was going on. He said that I’d been traded to Montreal,” explained Thomas, who played his first NHL game against the Canadiens during the 2012-13 campaign.
“He called me after I got traded and he said that it happens in hockey,” continued the Toronto native, who did not have to partake in physical testing with the Canadiens after undergoing similar testing with the Rangers earlier in the week. “He’s played for six different teams, and he said that Montreal is an unbelievable place to play and I’ll really enjoy it here. It’s been a crazy last day. I figured it all out [Tuesday] at 5 o’clock and I got on a plane at 9 o’clock and now I’m here at the training center.”
Fortunately for younger players like McCarron and Thomas, they’ll have plenty of support going forward from Canadiens staffers and more seasoned prospects alike over the course of the next four days.
“I’ve told the older players to help out the younger guys, the new draftees and the players that were invited,” explained Canadiens director of player development, Martin Lapointe. “It’s often their first professional camp. Certainly, when you head into a place like the Canadiens dressing room, it can be pretty intimidating. They have to try to guide the younger guys and show them the way.
“It’s really exciting,” added the two-time Stanley Cup champion and veteran of nearly 1,000 NHL games. “There are a lot of players on site, especially from the QMJHL. It will be interesting. The camp has a new structure this year. Plenty of people are working hard to help me out. There will be some simulated games, morning practices and a big game on Sunday.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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