RED DEER, AB — Canada has a stacked list of NHL first round picks at this years U20 selection camp, and Connor McMichael is still making a name for himself among that group.
McMichael, selected 25th overall by the Washington Capitals last year, is one of 26 NHL first rounders at Canada’s selection camp in Red Deer, battling for a spot on the national team U20 roster for the upcoming 2021 World Junior Hockey Championships in Edmonton. The London Knights forward is one of six returning forwards from last year’s gold medal squad and expects to deliver for his country once again.
“We have a big opportunity in front of us to repeat,” he said.
“An extra long camp compared to past years, I think it’s going to help us a lot learn the systems and perfect the way we want to play and just get a lot of practice under our belt. I think it’ll be good to build chemistry and learn the new systems.”
McMichael is another one of Canada’s bubble veterans, travelling with the Capitals to Toronto for their playoff appearance this year.
“The bubble was really cool, a once in a lifetime opportunity to be in a bubble with all the other NHL teams,” the Ajax, Ontario native said Wednesday.
“That was just something that I had to soak in. Just watching the pros go to work and practice every day and the playoff atmosphere was really cool.”
The 19-year-old explained the takeaways from the bubble were endless but learning to live life away from your family will be important over the next month and a half during Canada’s pursuit of another gold medal.
“You just learn that mental mindset to stay strong and reach the ultimate goal, which is to win the gold medal. I think we have a great group of guys and it won’t be hard to keep your mind focused on winning a gold medal,” he said.
McMichael is also joined at camp by fellow Capitals’ pick Hendrix Lapierre, who was selected 22nd overall by the Capitals this year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two hadn’t met before camp this week.
“He seems like a really nice kid. We haven’t got the chance to talk too much, but so far I like him and I hope we can build some chemistry,” he said.
With two standout seasons behind him in London, McMichael spent parts of the last offseason in the city, training with fellow Canadian hopeful Dylan Cozens and other NHLers. He believes that experience has helped him as a player.
“There’s a lot of great players that live in London and play in the NHL or grew up in London. It’s just a great group of guys that you’re able to get out on the ice with, a couple professional players,” he said.
“It’s good that they all push each other and on and off the ice they’re always pushing each other and London has become a hub for NHL players. It was really fun training with (Dylan) before we came here and going on the ice with other NHLers and prepared us to come here and compete for a roster spot.”
That chemistry with Cozens might be a key to Canada’s chances at repeating in 2021. McMichael scored five goals at last year’s tournament and had 47 in just 52 games in London last year.
By Byron Hackett