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Five seconds. That number is the average amount of time Washington Capitals forward and former first-round draft pick Connor McMichael averaged on the power play last season for Head Coach Peter Laviolette. And for a team that has emphasized increasing the presence of youth on their roster as it moves forward, it simply won’t do.
Certainly I am not suggesting that Laviolette and his coaching staff completely overhaul the power play units, however, with Nicklas Backstrom shelved indefinitely following major hip surgery and Tom Wilson looking at missing a good chunk of the start of the season while recovering from knee surgery, the opportunities for the likes of McMichael (arguably the key piece in the team’s future lineup) and Joe Snively (to name a few) will be there for some experimenting.
The free agency decisions on offense (see Dylan Strome and return of Marcus Johansson) will likely play some part in one of Assistant Coach Blaine Forsythe’s units, however with young prospects such as Hendrix Lapierre, Alexander Alexeyev (currently recovering from shoulder surgery), and Lucas Johansen figuring to be in the fold at some point (likely delayed after the summer of personnel decisions), there can’t be any harm in seeing how they can handle the man-advantage if an opening arises and they prove themselves capable of doing so.
Last season, the Caps’ power play unit (long considered one of their biggest strengths) ranked 23rd, with an 18.8% effectiveness. There were many times during the 2021-22 season in which I was hoping that McMichael, Brett Leason, or Joe Snively (prior to being injured) among other young players who saw extended time in the NHL, would get more of a chance to showcase themselves on the power play. While he played just 35 games with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears before being recalled by Washington, Snively finished the regular season ranked fourth on the Bears’ roster in power play goals with four, and fourth in power play helpers with eight. In McMichael’s lone season in the AHL, he finished tied for first on the Bears’ roster in power play tallies in 33 Games Played with six, and second with seven assists (13 points, which led the Chocolate and White on the season). While a small sample size, McMichael is likely headed for an increased role this coming season, per General Manager Brian MacLellan, and assuming that remains the case going into training camp, an increased look on the man-advantage should be in the cards. Strome, a former first-round pick and still just 25, recorded 16 power play points in 69 Games Played with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Caps have relied upon Alex Ovechkin’s renowned one-timer for years, and while The Great Eight showed no signs of slowing down last season, there will come a day in the future when the youth movement must fully be embraced. I am not suggesting that Ovechkin and the rest of the current power play units are on the decline nor should the players signed this summer be kept out of the equation, however I do believe that if the man-advantage fails to improve upon their effectiveness last season, different players should be given the chance to try and help turn it around.
I would love your thoughts on this Caps fans. Should the coaching staff give McMichael and Co. some extended looks if the power play fails to get going? Or something else given the additions to the team this summer?
By Michael Fleetwood