Washington Capitals forward Connor McMichael has received plenty of attention in recent weeks, mostly by those wanting to see more playing time for the 21-year-old. While that cry was more than reasonable for the 2021-22 season, there has been a noticeable dip in McMichaels performance since he reported for training camp in September, that doesn’t necessarily justify more playing time.
Some will say he needs to play his way out of the slump he is currently enduring, and that could be the Capitals plan. Some will also say he needs time in Hershey, which could also be in the cards for the second-year forward.
In this post I’ll take a look at the discernible drop in McMichael’s performance, but first, provide a quick, cursory overview of his development to this point. If you are familiar with his abilities and level of play leading up to his time with the Capitals, please feel free to skip to the “2021-22 NHL Season”
McMichael, a 6’0”, 180lb, left-handed forward, was selected by the Capitals in the first round (25th overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. McMichael signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Capitals on July 12, 2019 for $925,000 AAV.
McMixhael spent the next season (2019-20) playing his third season with the London Knights of the OHL where he went on a scoring rampage. (there are literally dozens of articles on his superlatives from the 2019-20 season on our Prospects Page). McMichael recorded his second hat trick of the season by November 1st, and had a total of six hat tricks for the season. He was named OHL player of the week three times, the most in the OHL that season.
McMichael finished the regular season with 47 goals and 55 assists (102 points) in 52 games for a 1.96 points per game average. He recorded 283 shots for a shooting percentage of 16.6%. He also had a pretty good showing at the World Juniors that year as his confidence never wavered for the entire season.
McMichael would mention during several interviews throughout the 2019-20 season that he gleaned a lot of insight and confidence from being drafted by the Capitals and attending the team’s development camp, where he worked with the big names and saw how they went about their business.
The 2020-21 season started late for McMichael, due to the pandemic, but was no less eye-catching. In November he joined Team Canada for World Juniors selection camp and made the team for the tournament in Edmonton. He recorded four goals and four assists in seven games and took home a silver medal.
McMichael would then quickly head to Washington where he spent a few days in Capitals training camp before being re-assigned to Hershey for the season. Because of the pandemic, under-20 CHL players that would normally be precluded from playing in the AHL were allowed to join AHL teams. It would be a tremendous break for McMichael and his preparations for the NHL.
McMichael recorded 14 goals and 13 assists in just 33 games with the Bears, demonstrating he could succeed at the AHL level. Bears coach Spencer Carbery would say in an end-of-year presser that McMichael was ready for the NHL, but still needed to work on a few of the finer points of his game.
2021-22 NHL SEASON
McMichael spent the entire 2021-22 season with the Capitals. He recorded nine goals and nine assists in 68 games, but his level of play was far better than his offensive production indicated. McMichael ended the season with the best expected goals for percentage (xGF%) among all Capitals forwards. That’s pretty impressive for any player, let alone a rookie.
McMichael’s expected goals for percentage for the season was incredible, as he was creating more scoring chances than the opposition when he was on the ice. It’s really difficult to ascertain why he didn’t get more minutes per game last season. Really difficult.
Possibly the only real knock on McMichael’s game in the 2021-22 season was his ability to “finish” on those chances he was creating, as he was dead last on the team in goals differential (Goals for minus expected goals for).
With all that being said, things were still looking relatively good for McMichael coming into his sophomore campaign. Find ways to convert on a few more chances and all would be well in Capitals camp. Unfortunately, he’s gone in the opposite direction.
2022-23 PRESEASON – THE CHANGE BEGINS
A noticeable shift in McMichael’s performance was first realized during the 2022-23 pre-season. McMichael appeared in four preseason games, recorded just four shots, no goals and just one assist, and recorded the worst expected goals for percentage (43.59%) among all forwards to make the Capitals opening night roster. Very uncharacteristic for McMichael.
While the cry’s for more playing time last season were more than justified, the preseason showing by McMichael told an opposite story, as his game seemingly regressed. The eye-test agreed, his game didn’t seem the same.
But ok, it’s only preseason, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. While I thought McMichael could possibly be a late cut from the final roster because of his pre-season showing, I agree, we need to see more. Last season’s performance should outweigh his four preseason games. The Capitals agreed and McMichael made the opening night roster.
FIRST GAME OF 2022-23 SEASON
McMichael’s first game of the season was against the Senators on Thursday night. Unfortunately for McMichael, the downward trend continued. He had no points and recorded the worst expected goals for percentage on the Capitals.
It was possibly the worst game of McMichael’s career since his draft day. It’s hard to explain.
The (low) minutes haven’t changed, but his performance has.It’s been just five games, but the change has been discernible. The eye-test says McMichael may be dealing with reduced confidence, although that’s an extremely difficult intangible to measure. Having tracked every one of his games since 2019, I can safely say the skills are there and those won’t go away.
The call for more minutes will continue, but is that the best way to work him through this and restore his confidence? For me, I’d give him another game, soon, or send him immediately to Hershey. He has nothing to gain there, as far as development and improving his game is concerned, but one way or the other, playing will eventually restore his game.
By Jon Sorensen
Confidence is a mysterious thing.
I expect a further dip in performance if he doesn’t get some playing time, preferably in Hershey at this point.
I essentially agree. I don’t think it matters where he plays, as long as he plays.
The Bolts’ Killorn hadn’t scored in ages and a number of teammates referred to him gripping the stick too tight. I think McM is gripping his too tight and playing in Hershey will get him to loosen up.
The problem with sending him to Hershey is that he probably doesn’t get much playing time. That or Lapierre or Rybinski won’t get the opportunities they need. Hershey does not seem to feel the need to develop prospects. Lapierre, who is probably the most talented fwd in Hershey rn is only getting 3C duty, while Career AHLer Sgarbossa gets 1c duty. This culture that favors vets in the Washington Org is part of the reason that the caps can’t develop prospects. If McMichael gets sent down, Lapierre loses his 3c spot, and Mcmike only plays 3c duty in an inferior league.
Oops I meant Vecchione in the 1C
Vecchione in the 1C spot sorry
Sgarbossa was on paternity leave this weekend, so you were essentially correct in your first comment.
It’s a fine line, development vs. win games in the AHL. They say it’s a development league, but if you don’t win games you are gonna hurt, financially. Lapierre is not ready for top six center spot, he’s getting blasted off the puck, losing board battles, relatively quiet on the ice. So if you are trying to win games, Vecchione/Sgarbossa is the right play. But I agree, not the best for development.
Also, the Capitals have some input as to who plays and where they play in Hershey.
Those saying he’s slumping becuase he’s not playing didn’t read. Look at his preseason stats, where he played 4 of 6 games.
Laviolette discussed McMichael in today’s presser:
Fringe players are just a challenge to manage. If it was easy, they wouldn’t be “fringe” players. Hopefully Mac continues to develop, practicing with the NHLers.