Carson McMillan is determined to make the most of a long off-season that could turn out to be longer than he expected.
The Brandonite, who turns 24 on Monday, is entering his fourth season in the Minnesota Wild organization after signing a one-year, two-way deal with the National Hockey League club this summer.
McMillan’s Houston Aeros were swept out of the first round of the American Hockey League playoffs this spring, ending their season a full six weeks earlier than the previous year when they went all the way to the AHL’s Calder Cup final, losing in six games.
Throw in a potential NHL lockout that could cancel Minnesota’s training camp this month and it’s a much longer summer than McMillan wants, but there is a silver lining.
“It’s been a pretty long off-season and sometimes that’s not a bad thing,” said McMillan, who is back home in Brandon after spending the bulk of his off-season training in Calgary, where he spent his junior career with the Western Hockey League’s Hitmen. “The summer before was very short and I came into camp after we went to the Calder Cup finals kind of exhausted and I didn’t really rebuild much muscle. The time off has been nice and I feel great, and I’m just anxious to get there with the guys and start the season.”
McMillan will head to Minnesota if the labour situation is resolved by the time camp is slated to start on Sept. 21, and if not, he’ll open camp with the Aeros in early October.
The Crocus Plains High School grad has spent the bulk of his pro career so far with the Aeros, but played a career-high 11 NHL games with the Wild last season, producing a goal and two assists, with 11 penalty minutes and a plus/minus of +1.
Whether or not McMillan gets to top those NHL totals hinges in part on the labour talks. But he said whether it’s the NHL or AHL, he still has goals he wants to accomplish.
“It’s nice to know that at least I’ll still have a job in Houston, and I guess I’ll go play a season of hockey and still get paid, which is obviously nice,” McMillan said.
“I always want to be the top penalty killer on the team and a lot of our older guys left (the Aeros) so I’ve got to be a bigger leader in the dressing room. I’m the older guy now, even though I’m still pretty young, but I’ve been around for a while and I’ve gotta show the guys how they’ve gotta work every night.”
McMillan’s work ethic is what has gotten the 6-foot-1, 200-pound forward this far. Offensively, his numbers took a step back, from 12 goals and 22 points in 78 AHL games in 2010-11, to four goals and 12 points in 51 contests last season.
However, the hard-hitting McMillan continues to work on his overall game and he feels like he’s closer to being NHL-ready than ever.
“I’m getting bigger and stronger and I feel like even faster,” he said. “I feel I can play at that level; I’ve just got to play hard every night. I’ve got to perform and (the Wild’s management has) got to see that. If I get called up again, I’ve got to work as hard as I can and stick out so hopefully I can stay as long as I can.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 8, 2012