Heading into last season, Mark MacMillan was set to be one of the more intriguing rookies for St. John’s as someone that could make a quick impact. One year later, he’s a prospect that is squarely on the hot seat.
At 23 years of age heading into last season, MacMillan was one of the older forwards on the IceCaps despite being a pro rookie. While that’s an indictment of how little support Canadiens management is giving to their prospects, it also meant that expectations were going to be higher on MacMillan than other first year players.
His start to the 2015-16 campaign was delayed as a result of a broken knee cap sustained late in the previous year. When he got the green light, MacMillan was sent to ECHL Brampton to get into game shape after just one game with the ‘Caps and after a slow start, he took some steps forward in the second week before being recalled to St. John’s. Overall with the Beast, he had two goals and three assists in six games.
When he joined the IceCaps, MacMillan started in a bottom six role. He didn’t have much success early on and that landed him in the doghouse early. Through January, he had just five goals and two assists in 31 games.
As injuries started to become a serious problem for both Montreal and St. John’s, MacMillan moved up into more of a regular third line role with the odd game on the second unit. Unfortunately, he wasn’t really much more productive in the second half, collecting ten points in his final 31 games.
For most rookies, 17 points in 62 games is disappointing but isn’t the end of the world either. For someone that was more or less a ‘veteran rookie’ though, it’s more concerning. MacMillan also wasn’t as strong in the defensive end as anyone would have hoped either although he did show flashes of improvement in that regard as the season went on.
Most rookies have three year contracts so a mediocre freshman campaign still leaves that player with two years to really develop their game. As MacMillan signed later than most, his entry-level deal was only two seasons meaning that he’s entering the final year of his contract already without really establishing himself as a quality pro. Suffice it to say, that’s not an ideal spot to be in heading into a contract year.
With Marc Bergevin doing little to supplement the IceCaps with quality veterans up front once again (Chris Terry alone doesn’t replace both Bud Holloway and Gabriel Dumont), MacMillan should have a chance to at least start in a comparable role to the one he finished last season with – a third liner who plays the penalty kill. However, he can’t afford to start 2016-17 the same way he did last year.
MacMillan will need to get off to a quick start next season if he wants any chance of being put into a role where he can make a positive impression on Bergevin and the Habs. Another slow start will likely land him in Sylvain Lefebvre’s doghouse once again and as we’ve seen in recent years, once a player gets in there, they aren’t afforded many chances to get out of it.
The opportunity to play his way up the lineup should be there though and he does have the talent to be more of an impact player than he has shown so far. But if he spends most of next year in a bottom six role, the odds of him getting a second contract drop considerably, especially when you consider that he turns 25 in January. There’s always some pressure on a prospect to perform but in MacMillan’s case, there’s that much more. He needs to take a big step forward next season; it will be interesting to see if he can live up to the challenge.