Washington Capitals forward prospect and 2019 first-round pick Connor McMichael joined Capitals’ senior writer Mike Vogel’s Break The Ice podcast to discuss his season with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, getting coached by former Capitals coach and center Dale Hunter, winning gold at the 2019 World Junior Championships with Canada, and more. You can listen to the episode here.
The 19-year-old McMichael thought that the OHL pause was going to be a couple weeks at home and was disappointed when the rest of the season was canceled on March 18 due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, he is happy to be able to be home with his family.
He said that working out with his brother and playing street hockey during quarantine “keeps me into the game” and “competitive.” McMichael set up a gym in his basement and has been running to stay in shape.
Asked about the 2020 NHL Draft class, who will have to be drafted virtually, McMichael said, “It sucks for them, obviously. For me, it was the biggest day of my life. Going through the draft was a lot of fun.” McMichael said he was especially disappointed for Luke Evangelista, his Knights’ roommate who has his draft year this year. Evangelista is ranked the 31st best prospect in this year’s draft by hockeyprospect.com. “[The Knights] always have good players,” who get drafted, McMichael told Vogel.
On his draft day in Vancouver last summer, McMichael, the 25th overall pick, said “I was a little excited, a little nervous. I didn’t know where I was [going]. … It was a dream come true to get drafted. It was a lot of fun.” He added that you can overthink a lot during your draft year but development camp helped him gain confidence and get ready for this season.
“We had a really good team this year. It sucked we didn’t get to cap it off,” the Knights center said. The team finished second in the OHL with 90 points and McMichael had a career year with 47 goals (third in the OHL), 102 points (third), and a +32 rating in 52 games.
He bounced ideas off of guys who got drafted before him like defenseman Adam Boqvist (Chicago Blackhawks) and forward Alex Formenton (Ottawa Senators) before he got drafted by the Capitals.
McMichael said he was nervous before his first junior game. “I wanted to play my heart out,” he said. “Junior’s been a lot of fun and has been a good experience. I wish I could do it all over again,” he continued.
“I had fun at St. Mikes (his first OHL stop)… but didn’t have much of an experience,” McMichael said of his previous OHL teams. “Steve Laos has great hockey mind. That organization (Hamilton Bulldogs) is up there.”
“London doesn’t compare to many places in juniors,” McMichael continued. “I’d say it’s the closest to an NHL team you could get to in juniors. [Hunter] and Mark (his brother) are doing a great job in London and they really gear you for the next level, which is the NHL.”
McMichael called Hunter “one of the best hockey minds out there. … He’s always there for me and wants me to do well. With him playing for Washington, he’s told me a lot of what they do in Washington. … He gives us [information about the players there].”
Hunter does what he wants “and most of the time, he’s right. I have a lot of faith in [Hunter],” McMichael continued on his coach.
“In World Juniors [with Team Canada}, the system was similar to London,” though with a couple differences, he said. The exposure McMichael got to Hunter with the Canadian World Junior team helped him, he felt.
Hunter “preaches two-way hockey. … He wants you to play good all over the ice so he’s taught me a few things. … He’s showed me videos of NHL players [playing a full 200-foot game],” McMichael said. He knows that he has to play defense in the NHL.
On what he wants to improve, McMichael responded “I want to work on my first couple of strides, especially in the corners against bigger players.”
“You want to get an acceleration so that’s a big thing I want to work on and every player wants to get bigger and stronger so I want to spend more time in the gym,” said McMichael, who is listed as 6′ and 181 pounds.
McMichael said that getting familiar with the area and team was his No. 1 priority at rookie camp last summer. Learning about the organization and meeting new people were among highlights from his time at development camp.
On his first rookie tournament last September, McMichael said it was a “cool little experience… Nashville was a great city to be in.” The tournament made him feel more comfortable for training camp the next week.
“I was a little star-struck getting to meet those guys you watch on TV when you’re young: Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson. It was a lot of fun playing a couple of games with them and it gave me a first taste of playing in the NHL. I’m looking forward to when I can step on the ice again with those guys,” he said on participating in a few NHL preseason games.
“Showing you can play at that pace” during the preseason made McMichael feel confident, he said. Starting off the season in London “made me feel very well,” he added. McMichael said that he learned a lot from training camp and that helped him in London this past season. He said that his confidence makes him make better plays and feel better on the ice.
McMichael described the feeling of knowing you have an NHL team looking after you “really cool.” He said that he uses it as motivation. McMichael said that he went out with Capitals scout Steve Richmond a lot in London.
He feels like London stressed development and looked after him, saying, “I feel like my game’s developed a lot and I’ve matured a lot.”
McMichael felt like the Knights had “such a tight-knit group” and “really good depth, had skilled guys, guys who worked really hard, guys that were great on the penalty kill. From top to bottom, we were good.” He thought that “we had such a good chance go far… pretty disappointing that the season had to come to an end.”
Richmond has called him to tell him “to stay ready,” McMichael said. He continued on to say that it would be a “dream come true” to be a Black Ace. “Being around the NHL lifestyle” would be awesome, he thinks. McMichael will be looking ahead to next season if he doesn’t make the cut as a Black Ace this year.
“You can always develop no matter what,” he said at the possibility of returning to London next season. Hunter “will always find something to work on,” he acknowledged, but McMichael is still “going to try my best to be on the [NHL] roster.”
It “would be a dream-come-true” for McMichael to be a teen to play in the NHL. He “will try my best … to prove I belong in the NHL,” he said.
McMichael told Vogel that it was a “really cool experience” to win with Hunter, who rarely has a smile on his face, when they won in 2019. After winning, “I’ve never seen him smile so much,” he laughed.
Playing and winning at the World Junior Championships last winter was “a lot of fun” and “a dream come true,” he said.
“Any time you that throw on that Maple Leaf, in Canada especially, it’s a lot of fun and you want to do your best to represent your country and we were really fortunate to win gold for the country,” McMichael continued.
On what he has been watching during quarantine, McMichael said “[I’m] not sure I’ve watched this much Netflix in my life. I’ve watched Ozark, The Last Dance, I re-watched Breaking Bad — that’s one of my personal favorites. I watched Outer Banks. I’m flying through episodes every day because I’m starting to get bored over here.”
By Harrison Brown