It didn’t take long for the Capitals 2019 first round selection Connor McMichael to make an impression on the fans, management and maybe most importantly, his teammates, playing in his first exhibition game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Finishing with an assist and a strong overall showing, McMichael showed flashes of his offensive flair and looked like he’s on the brink of a big season back with London in the Ontario Hockey League.
Centering a line with fellow prospect Damien Riat and Chandler Stephenson, the line looked strong all night as they pushed the pace with their combined speed. McMichael had a couple of scoring chances, registering a shot on goal in the first, and won three of his first four face-offs. He also saw some 4 on 4 time with Stephenson and the pair traded a couple of chances with the Hawks.
With the Capitals down a goal after the first, McMichael would register his first point of the pre-season, just over two minutes into the second frame, as he made a nifty play while on his knees. The hockey IQ that has been talked about was prevalent on the play as he went directly to the front of the net. Tyler Lewington one-timed a centering pass from Stephenson. After the shot was fanned, McMichael caught the puck on his forehand and as he was being pushed down by the defenseman, backhanded a no-look pass to Damien Riat in the crease to tie the game at 1-1. It’s easy to see why many have suggested he has a knack for making plays.
Former Washington Capital and McMichael’s junior coach Dale Hunter was asked about the play after the game. “He knew that guy had an empty net backdoor,” Hunter said. “You can’t teach that. That’s a feeling of the game.”
Should he continue his strong play, there may be an opportunity on the third line for at least the first three games of the season as Evgeny Kuznetsov (suspended) is out. This leaves some competition for that spot to open the season. McMichael certainly proved last night he could play a game or two and help out.
Capital’s head coach Todd Reirden was asked about the possibility of McMichael making the opening night roster, particularly considering the suspension to Evgeny Kuznetsov. “There’s nothing out of the question,” coach Todd Reirden said. “He made some really good plays in the scrimmage the other day, and he’s got the ability and our scouts speak very highly of him. We just want to put the best players on the ice we can that give us a chance to win.”
“You come into camp competing for a spot all the time,” McMichael said. “When another thing opens up, obviously you want to be better, and I’m excited for that opportunity.”
Other Caps Prospects notables:
The aforementioned Damien Riat, who finished with four shots, including his goal. He looked strong on his skates and looked good playing with fast linemates as he was able to utilize his speed to get to open areas.
Aliaksei Protas had a big game and maybe turned the most heads with his 1 goal and 2 assist performance. He also had 3 shots on net and looked like former Cap Victor Kozlov with the big wingspan and skating style. The goal makes him the first-ever player drafted out of Belarus to score a goal for the Caps, albeit an exhibition game. His skating needs some work, but for a big man, he can move.
Virginia native Joe Snively also looked good as he registered a point on the Protas goal as he tipped the puck to Beck Malenstyn who then fed Protas in the slot for Washington’s third goal of the night. He also had two shots on net and was seemingly always around the puck.
By Marcus Boutiler