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?
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