Size, grit lead Western Michigan recruit McCarron to Montreal

For its first draft choice on Sunday, Canada’s most storied hockey franchise turned to America.

The Montreal Canadiens chose Michael McCarron, a 6-foot-5 right wing from the U.S. Under-18 Team, 25th overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft at the Prudential Center.

“It’s so special,” said McCarron, a Western Michigan recruit and the first player with college ties drafted on Sunday. “It gives me chills to put on an Original Six jersey. … I was hoping to go in the first round, and I’m so happy.”

In 49 games with the U-18 squad in 2012-13, McCarron posted 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points, while racking up 166 penalty minutes.

“I think that’s why they drafted me,” he said of Montreal. “They need size and grit, and I think I can bring that.”

He also played with Team USA in the Under-18 World Championship in Sochi, Russia, last season.

“The food wasn’t very good, but I battled through,” he said. “When we beat Russia in overtime, I got chills.”

A physical player, McCarron weighs in at about 228 pounds, according to an NHL draft release.

“I like food,” he quipped. “I like to eat.”

Asked what NHL player he patterned his play after, McCarron likened himself to Boston Bruins power forward Milan Lucic.

“I feel I can crash and bang on the fourth line,” he said, “or play on the first line [if need be].”

McCarron said he has been strapping on skates since age 6, and has spent hours upon hours both on the ice and in the weight room en route to getting drafted.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” the right-shooting forward said, “but I’ve still got to get there.”

To that end, he said he worked on his skating extensively last season while playing with the U-18 team, incorporating explosive workouts into his regimen.

“I knew my skating had to get better,” he said. “Now, it’s like night and day.”

He also thanked his junior circuit for helping him to get to this level.

“In the USHL, you’re playing against the best kids in your age group every weekend,” he said. “I think it helped me tremendously, and I can’t thank them enough.”

McCarron said that he had spent the previous two weeks working out in Kalamazoo, Mich., with Western Michigan’s strength and conditioning coach and some of his future Broncos teammates. His major junior rights, however, are held by the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, and both London and Kalamazoo are situated about two hours away from his home in Grosse Pointe, Mich.

“I’ll probably make a decision in the next week and get back to you guys,” he joked with media members.

He said there were positives to both choices. Playing in college would allow him to build up his legs and body more, and he added that education was also a priority in his family. At Western, he also would get to play for head coach and former NHL bench boss Andy Murray.

Concerning the OHL, he said it was more of a pro-style game that also permitted fighting, and might also get him to the NHL more quickly.

McCarron said he would talk his situation over with both the Canadiens and his family, and weigh their respective input and see where he should take his next shift.

“Ultimately, it’s what I want,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s up to me.”