Answering The Connor McMichael Question

He was highly touted from the day the Washington Capitals drafted him in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft. He was just two points shy of averaging two points per game and had six, count ‘em, six hat tricks in his final season with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

He then led the Hershey Bears in scoring with 14 goals and 13 assists in just 33 games and showed he was a big time player in big moments of games in the AHL last season. Connor McMichael made quick work of the development leagues and was by all accounts more than ready for his shot in the NHL.

However, McMichael has recorded just seven goals and eight assists in 55 games and has a 0.27 points per game average so far this season. That’s good enough for 15th-best among Capitals forwards, leading many Capitals fans to ask; Why is Connor McMichael in the lineup on a regular basis?

Generating Offense

First and foremost, McMichael generates offensive zone “push”. McMichael has the team’s highest expected goals for percentage (xGF%) among all forwards with more than 100 minutes of ice time. That means when he’s on the ice he and his linemates generated 55.67% of the expected goals in relation to the opposition. Simply put, McMichael moves the play from his own end of the ice into the offensive zone. That’s excellent, and you better believe that puts a smile on Peter Laviolette’s face.

Trusted On The Backend

Second, McMichael is trusted by Laviolette in the defensive zone, and thus why he will always get the nod over Daniel Sprong, who is not trusted in the defensive zone at all. Compared to other Capitals forwards, McMichael sees more zone starts in the defensive zone, more typical of a third line player.

The previous two points alone have McMichael sitting pretty on Laviolette’s forwards list. I could generate a stack of analytics that essentially say the same thing, but I’ll spare you (today).

“You see those shifts and those glimpses where you’re like ‘this kid’s gonna be a really good player’. He’s got good feet, he’s fast. Just putting it all together in the NHL can take some time and he’s done a pretty job this year,” said Tom Wilson on Monday.

“Talk about confidence, again. I think when he’s playing his game, you can tell he’s a special player. We’ve played one game together and had a bunch of good looks,” said Wilson.

“I was joking on him, he had three or four good looks, I’m like “you gotta score one, Mike, Let’s go,” and he knows. We got a fun relationship, he’s a good kid. Just trying to help him out. He compliments the line well. He’s smart, he gets into good areas to score and to help his line mates.”

Patience Is Indeed A Virtue

Fans expect goals from every forward, regardless of what line a player plays on or what a player’s specific role is on the team. That’s understandable. And to some extent, that’s expected from McMichael when he’s playing in the top six. He’s shot the puck 85 times for a 8.2% shooting percentage, which is in the middle of the pack among Capitals forwards.

But for McMichael that shooting percentage is a bit low. He’s got a better shot than that, and it will improve with time. The eye-test says it appears he’s trying to be too fine with his aim. He’s also an excellent puck hound around the goal. He has excellent reaction times to pucks bouncing around in the crease, so once he learns to live in those areas, the goals will come. Look for his shooting percentage (and scoring) to tick up a bit as the regular season winds down.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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12 Responses to Answering The Connor McMichael Question

  1. Anonymous says:

    He’s had a pretty good year, in my book. Held his own from the start. The goals/scoring will come, that’s a given.

  2. Anonymous says:

    whats his average toi now? still pretty low, right? that helps explain the low goals

  3. Anonymous says:

    But he can not store. Hes had so many chances, high draft pick just to play 3rd line center? He’s got to svore more. His face offs are not good either.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      You need players that move the puck out of the d-zone and into the offensive zone. He’s best on the team at doing that. His shooting percentage is middle of the pack on the team, but low for him. That will come around.

      As far as playing at 3C, nobody is moving Backstrom and Kuznetsov at this point in time. Not sure where you expect a rookie to play. He’ll play at 1C/2C in the future (after Backstrom retires).

      • David Van Wagener says:

        I have been arguing this exact point with a guy this week. He WILL score, but he’s still figuring what he can and cannot do at the NHL level, but his instincts are great and he gets really creates ‘stuff’ for his teammates. People are expecting 1C/2C numbers for a guy in his first NHL season.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Ya ive watched him thiseason…hes not bad ..gets lots of chances but no finish…i think he is a 3rd liner ..put him on wing w/kuzy centre & sheary on the other wing that will create more chances 4 him 2 score…

  5. steven says:

    He has learned how to produce everywhere he has been. He is doing well for a rookie and just wait until next season. Also remember he is a true center playing wing most nights. His assignments are different on the wing. If Eller goes in the offseason adn he is installed as the 3rd line center watch him bloom next season.

  6. Anonymous says:

    everyone is angry that a 21 year old rookie is playing like a 21 year old rookie, jesus.

    how many Caps first rounders not named Ovechkin or Backstrom were hitting their potential at 21 huh?

  7. DC Scappeli says:

    I kind of thought that Connor Mack could still use some seasoning in Hershey, let him get physically mature too, but hell—they brought Willy up at an early age and got him a lot of experience. Keep Mack up and let him learn more; this only bodes well for the future. Besides, can’t keep the young guys down on the farm all the time, gotta see what we have. I like him, and the goals are gonna come as long as he keeps driving the net and being aggressive.

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