BROSSARD, Quebec -- Michael McCarron is on a mission to turn his body into the kind of machine he believes it needs to be in order to stick with the Montreal Canadiens for good.
Selected by Montreal in the first round (No. 25) of the 2013 NHL Draft, the 21-year-old forward made his NHL debut last season, with a goal and an assist in 20 games during two stints with the Canadiens.
McCarron, who had 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) in 58 games with St. John's of the American Hockey League last season, appeared noticeably leaner when he took part in the Canadiens development camp at the team's suburban practice facility.
"I just know what it takes to play in the NHL," McCarron said. "I was there for 20 games and I saw how hard those guys worked and how well maintained their bodies are. And I was there at the end of the year and their bodies were still well maintained. Those guys are machines and that's what I needed to look like to play in the NHL, and I've just got to continue to work on my body and continue to get better."
Video: Michael McCarron on continuing to improve his game
The 6-foot-6, 231-pound native of Macomb, Mich., had 68 points (28 goals, 40 assists) in 56 games during his final junior season in 2014-15, when he helped lead Oshawa of the Ontario Hockey League win a Memorial Cup title after a midseason trade from London.
"I think it was a huge step for me just being able to be around an NHL locker room," McCarron said. "Those 20 games when I was up here, I was able to see people's bodies and just know that I have to get there to continue to play well and maintain throughout the whole season, and where I was last year wasn't going to cut it.
"And obviously it didn't cut it. I was sent back down to the minors, and I just got that extra boost to continue to work on my body. And like you hear these guys say, I wasn't going to be playing in the NHL at 18. It was going to be a process and things needed to change and I just continued to work hard."
McCarron demonstrated his battle level during development camp when he crossed paths with Montreal's most recent top draft pick, 18-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, selected No. 9 by the Canadiens in the 2016 draft.
"[We had] been going at each other for a couple of days and he said something and I said something, and we both disagreed on it," McCarron said. "We're battling for a spot and we're both competitive players, and it wasn't just us who were going at it, there were other players who were getting a bit heated, and even in summer league you're still really competitive and you want to win, even if there's nothing on the line, just pride, and we were just battling and he took it well. You know what, he's a tough kid, he's a big kid, and I thought it was good for us."
Video: CGY@MTL: McCarron notches first NHL goal in the 3rd
Though Sergachev hopes to play for the Canadiens as soon as this season, McCarron has always been aware Montreal viewed his road to the NHL as a long-term project. But that taste of League play has increased McCarron's hunger to make it for good.
"Yeah, this is one year when I really need to dig in, and I really want it, I really do," McCarron said. "I want to play in the NHL and you've got to put in that extra work, just that little bit extra, extra weight, extra reps, and you know what, things are going to fall into place and I just need to continue day-by-day and not look ahead."
Martin Lapointe, the Canadiens director of player development, continues to preach patience with respect to McCarron's progress.
"He still has a lot of things to improve," Lapointe said. "He's a big body, it's going to take time. He came to development camp [after lowering his] lower body fat, and to me, that's commitment. He wants to do the work and he knows that he needs to improve in some areas, and we're going to help him do that. And he's got three more months to work out and be in great shape, so I'm not worried about McCarron."
McCarron will spend his summer in London, Ontario, with a clear focus on what he wants to achieve before he returns to Montreal.
"Just continue to work on my game and work in the gym, and just continue to get better and better every day and that's my goal," McCarron said. "And the things I need to work on are my quickness and my speed and my power that I generate from stride to stride. And that's going to come with time, and I've got three months to work hard here and this is probably the most important three months of my life."