The Vancouver Canucks have put in a waiver claim on forward Brandon McMillan, most recently of the Arizona Coyotes, the club announced on Thursday.
McMillan, 24, hails from Delta, B.C., and has spent the early years of his hockey career bouncing between the American Hockey League and the NHL. This season he’s been a mainstay with the goaltending challenged Coyotes managing a goal and two assists in 50 games. He’s also been a minus-19, but such is life playing in front of Mike Smith this season.
Read on for more.
There’s some context we should chew over before proceeding to analyze what McMillan’s track record tells us about his abilities. In particular, McMillan and the Coyotes avoided arbitration this past summer by agreeing to an interesting one-year contract, two-way contract.
From the structure of McMillan’s contract – which carries an elevated AHL salary – we can infer that McMillan and his representatives opted to accept a lower NHL salary in exchange for the security of a higher salary at the AHL level. Based on the way McMillan has bounced between leagues, that seems sensible.
In terms of the contract’s details, McMillan’s deal pays him $625,000 at the NHL level and his AHL salary is set at $100,000. (A side note: news of the McMillan signing, and his contract details were originally reported by Capgeek.com).
Why might McMillan’s AHL salary level matter for Vancouver? Well with a move of this sort, we have to consider that the Utica Comets have been operating all season – from the Keith Acton trade, to the Andrey Pedan deal – like a team keen on making a Calder Cup trophy run this spring.
On the margins, McMillan’s relatively high AHL salary makes him easier to sneak through waivers, and it’s possible that the Canucks have picked him up with that in mind.
Or perhaps they’re just looking for some additional forward depth. McMillan is often listed as a centre and a winger, but he hasn’t taken many draws during his time with the Coyotes. In terms of his on-ice results, they look ghastly this season (especially that ugly plus/minus number), but that’s largely percentage driven.
Offensively speaking there isn’t much to write home about. McMillan’s AHL stats are unspectacular, and he’s scored at a replacement level rate at 5-on-5 in his 162 games in the NHL.
In terms of his two-way game, McMillan probably isn’t a decent bet to be more than a fourth-line player. By shot attempt differential the Coyotes have been bleeding shot attempts against with McMillan on the ice at evens this season, although that’s likely a product – to some extent – of him being buried in the defensive zone in terms of his territorial deployment. The year prior – when he shared the ice with the likes of Mike Ribeiro and Shane Doan during a short stint with the Coyotes – he was among Arizona’s best forwards by the underlying numbers.
There are some things in the underlying data that might suggest that McMillan has some untapped potential, albeit in a bottom-of-the-roster type way. He’s drawn penalties at a very high rate, which generally suggests that a player is regularly getting position on defenders. He’s also improved the shot attempt differentials of three of the five forwards with whom he’s spent at least 100 5-on-5 minutes skating alongside over the past three years. It isn’t much, but if you squint you might find some reason to believe that he could be a useful bottom of the roster piece.
Overall McMillan is what you’d expect from a waiver pickup: he could help the fourth-line, but he shouldn’t be counted on to do so. He’d surely help the Utica Comets though, if the Canucks can sneak him and his relatively high AHL salary through waivers before the Calder Cup playoffs.
The final angle here: we’ll have to hope that the acquisition of McMillan doesn’t reflect the health status of either Nick Bonino or Brad Richardson – both of whom have recently been spotted in walking boots.