The Toronto Maple Leafs very well could have acquired a mid to late round draft pick from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for forward Josh Leivo, but instead they wanted Michael Carcone
They’ve had him on their radar for quite some time.
“When the trade to the Maple Leafs happened, I was not surprised at all,” said Jonathan Molina of P4 Sports, Carcone’s agent.
In fact, Carcone nearly dawned the blue and white at the teams development camp in the summer of 2016.
After his 2015-2016 QMJHL season, in which his 47 goals placed him second amongst the entire league, Carcone was projected to be a late round draft pick. But there was no guarantee Carcone would be selected, and because of that, Molina fielded development camp offers from NHL clubs, to provide some insurance in the event that Carcone was not selected.
Initially, Carcone chose to attend the Leafs development camp.
But then the Canucks came calling, with plenty more opportunity to offer.
They told Molina that they were considering taking Carcone in the later rounds of the draft, but even if they didn’t end up taking him, they thought he had a shot at earning an entry-level contract at their development camp. Carcone and his agent were intrigued by Vancouver’s interest, so they told the Leafs, ‘thanks, but no thanks.’
When the NHL draft came around, each of the 30 NHL teams passed on Carcone. He was not selected in the draft.
So Carcone attended Canucks development camp.
Carcone stood out amongst the players there, many of whom were highly acclaimed prospects. He’d end the week-long camp with a contract signed on the dotted line. He had blown away the Canucks staff.
“From what the Canucks told me—he was the best player on the ice, overall,” Molina explained.
Instead of returning to Junior for following 2016-2017 season, Carcone headed to Utica to start his pro career.
Carcone’s start to his pro career was far from smooth sailing. He recorded 18 points in 61 games in a rookie campaign that, ultimately, can be chalked up as a learning experience.
In his second pro season, though, Carcone started to get the hang of things. He scored a career-high 15 goals and was a key part of the teams power play and penalty kill.Albeit a small sample size, it’s worth noting that he also recorded four points in five playoff games last year.
Heading into Carcone’s third year pro, though, he didn’t get off to a good start. As a result, Comets head coach Trent Cull scratched the 22-year-old forward for the first three games of the season. Carcone’s showing at training camp was subpar, which lead to him being a healthy scratch for Utica’s first three games of the season.
But once Carcone got back into the lineup, he flipped a switch. He’d go on to record 17 points in 20 games with the Comets and evolve into one of Cull’s most trusted players.
“I thought he was playing his best hockey right now,” Cull told EyeWitness News Utica one day after the trade.
He was even attracting some attention from the big club.
“In talking to [Canucks assistant general manager] Ryan Johnson, he was close to a call-up with the Canucks,” Molina insisted.
His progress over the 2018 calendar year was a big reason why the Leafs wanted him coming the other way in the Josh Leivo deal.
“It’s a good feeling—just knowing that your wanted somewhere,” Carcone told The Leafs Nation.
While the Leafs organization was high on Carcone, it didn’t change the fact that he’d have to earn every inch of opportunity with a stacked Marlies team.
“I knew coming here, that there was four deep lines,” Carcone said. “A lot of these guys are [high-end] prospects.”
It was much different environment than what he was used to in Utica.
“I don’t want to be rude,” Carcone prefaced. “But there’s a lot more top-end prospects in Toronto.”
With high-end talent on the Marlies roster, from top to bottom, Carcone had a hard time holding down a spot in the Marlies lineup when he first arrived, as he was a healthy scratch four times through his first seven games with the team.
“I feel like he’s still in that adjustment period,” Keefe said. “It’s going to take him some time.”
Carcone has recorded six points through 11 contests with the Marlies. He’s shown flashes of his raw talent–such as his speed, shooting ability and his nose for the net– and the Marlies have been impressed with spurts of what they’ve seen. But Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe thinks Carcone has more to give.
“I think there’s more to his game offensively that can be developed,” Keefe said.. “In particular with how he can convert offensive situations into play driving situations. Mainly just, holding on to the puck [and] possessing the puck.”
Is there an organization that’s more equipped with development recourses than the Maple Leafs?
For Carcone, being apart of a top-notch development program like the one lead by Scott Pellerin could help propel his game to the next level. And as consistency has been Carcone’s biggest obstacle thus far in his pro career, you’d have to think that the internal competition on the Marlies will push Carcone to be more consistent, as he’ll be held accountable.
The case of Trevor Moore, for example, is the type of development path that Carcone hopes to emulate. Alike Carcone, Moore was an undrafted free agent who earned himself an entry-level contract at a development camp. Moore struggled at the start of his pro career, too.
But he just kept plugging away and took advantage of all the recourses the Marlies have. Next thing you know, two and a half years later, Moore is making an impact with the Leafs (three points in five games) while on a brief call-up.
“It just kind of shows that there is room for guys like him and I, that aren’t drafted, and [we] can play at this level,” Carcone said.