Connor McMichael, the Washington Capitals first round draft pick in 2019, is off to a torrid start so far this season. Case closed, move on to the next article…..Ok, maybe I’d rather you stick around and hear about the month he’s had since returning to his junior club in the Canadian Hockey League. McMichael eclipsing 100 points this season is not out of the question.
When Washington fans had a chance to see the club’s latest first round selection (25th overall) play as a member of the Capitals in the 2019 NHL pre-season, it was always going to be just a glimpse of what we could be in store for in a couple of years in DC. With an assist in two games played in Washington wins vs St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, and a few plays that only select NHL’ers could pull off (the between legs attempt) it was a great showing for one of the Capitals hottest prospects.
There was some discussion about him possibly sticking around for regular-season action, considering the early injury woes for the Capitals. That alone spoke volumes of his play in his first NHL pre-season action. But the decision was made to get him back to his junior club, which has worked out well, as the Ontario Hockey League season was set to begin.
While Washington fans would have to bid adieu to the still 18-year-old, London Knights fans were happy to get back their star forward to assist in a bid for another Memorial Cup Championship. McMichael is expected to not only be an offensive catalyst for the Knights but also a dependable center, as he will be given a lot of minutes in the middle of the first line.
Additional minutes will come this season in the form of penalty killing. Coach Dale Hunter has had to utilize his number one centerman more this season while down a man. As Washington fans know, Hunter takes pride in playing a full 200-foot game and this employment of the young player in this fashion is only going to help his development moving forward. The fact that Hunter is now using him on the PK speaks volumes to McMichael’s commitment to being a strong two-way forward. He has used his offense to contribute two short-handed goals so far this season.
After a 72 point OHL season last year, and coming off an excellent training camp in Washington, it didn’t take long for McMichael to get back to his scoring ways with London. On September 20th, in the 3rd period of London’s first game of the season versus the Peterborough Petes, McMichael scored on a nasty wrist shot, beating Hunter Jones (Minnesota 2nd round 2019). It would be a sign of things to come as the 6’, 180 lb McMichael would utilize his deadly accurate wrist shot to score many of his goals so far this season. He’s beating goalies straight up without screens, showing off his already efficient pro-shot.
McMichael added an assist for a two-point night in his first game back in the OHL, though the Knights would lose 6-4. McMichael would score again the following night for a two-goal, three-point weekend in two games played, with 13 shots on goal. Not a bad way to reintroduce himself in London, but it was only a small sign of things to come.
Speaking to the London Free Press McMichael said:” In the back of my mind, I want to get the scoring title,” and when you consider the start he’s off to, it would be hard to argue against his chances. He added:” That would be something cool. It’s my third year and I’ll be leaned-on for offense and defense, I’m looking forward to chasing it.”
The second week of the season saw McMichael capture the OHL “On the Run” Player of the Week for his play vs Erie Otters at home and Hamilton Bulldogs (his original OHL team) on the road.
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) September 29, 2019
Week 2 would also see him named to the CHL Vaughn “Team of the Week“. (McMichael was also named to CHL Vaughn “Team of the Week” for a second time of the year for Oct 21 – 27).
Against Erie, he had two goals, with a career-high five-point night including his second career hat-trick for a seven-point week in the two games, including a short-handed goal. He was also +3 over those contests and was strong at the face-off circle, with 23 wins in 37 draws.
Over the next four games, with London playing fairly inconsistent hockey, McMichael would slow his torrid pace a bit, but as with all great players, he still found the scoresheet with a goal and four assists in games vs the Ottawa 67’s, Owen Sound Attack, Saginaw Spirit, and Windsor Spitfires. His season-opening five-game point and goal streaks were snapped in Saginaw against the Spirit. His -3 over those four games wasn’t great, but London was having goaltending issues (have made a trade since) which may taint those numbers a bit. He went 32 for 84 on the face-off circle. In the Ottawa game on October 4th, McMichael’s goal was a milestone as he collected his 100th career OHL point.
In his last four games, since October 19th, he is back on a pace that will surely see him blow away his totals from last season, with five goals and six assists. In all the games during that span he had at least two points and in three of the games he had three points, including multi-goal games against Saginaw and Erie. He is now entering the week of November 1 on another five-game point streak. His next game is vs Erie at home on November 1.
Currently, McMichael has 13 goals and 13 assists in just 12 games played so far this season. He is a +9, on pace for 73 goals and 145 points this year. It is reasonable to assume the scoring pace will slow a little as his 2.17 pts/game average is over double last season’s 1.07 pts/game average. For perspective, last season Jason Robertson of Kingston Frontenacs/Niagara IceDogs led all OHL scoring with 117 points (1.89 pts/game) while Justin Brazeau of North Bay Battalion paced goal scoring with 61 goals. With these stats in mind, McMichael has a solid chance to win a scoring title.
He’s currently fifth in point-scoring behind Sudbury Wolves Quinton Byfield who is by many to be picked #1 overall in the 2020 NHL entry draft. McMichael is tied for third in the league in goal-scoring, as his 13 goals put him three back of Nic Robertson of Peterborough Petes.
It’s easy to look at McMichael’s stats and see he is a well-rounded player. His goals to assists ratio are one-to-one…literally. This season, after 12 games, he has exactly 13 goals and 13 assists. Compare that to his last season of 36G,36A in 72 GP and in his rookie season of 2017/18 he had 8G,8A in 60 GP and it’s uncanny how even he is on that front.
He will be playing in the OHL/Russian Superseries taking place next week in two cities. He will be appearing in both games with the first being in Kitchener on November 7th and the second and final game on the 11th in London.
By Marcus Boutilier, Prospect Analyst
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