I originally wrote about the recent discernible decline in Connor McMichael’s game back on October 24 (here), so it’s worthy of an update at this point in the season. I’ll quickly revisit his stats from last season, the turning point in his game and provide an update on his stats at this point in the season.
Regardless of your thoughts about McMichael and his abilities, he had a pretty good 2021-22 season. He recorded 9 goals and 9 assists in 74 games and led the entire team in expected goals for percentage (xGF%) for the entire season. That’s a fairly decent rookie campaign.
Possibly the only real knock on McMichael’s game from 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).
All in all, McMichael was primed for a breakout sophomore campaign. He had a full season under his belt and a better understanding of the league. But so far, that hasn’t materialized.
THE START OF CHANGE
As we noted in the original post back in October, 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. He also posted the second worst expected goals for percentage (43.59%) among all forwards to make the Capitals opening night roster.
Very uncharacteristic for McMichael. Something appears to have changed from the end of last season and the start of training camp and the preseason. But again, it was just the preseason and a relatively small sample size. We need more data.
The first quarter of the season has seen McMichael’s downward trend continue. He’s appeared intermittently in six of the Capitals 19 games so far this season. In last night’s game against the Blues in St. Louis, a game in which the Capitals dominated possession, McMichael was the only Capitals player with an xGF% below 50%.
McMichael also posted a team-low 8:01 of time on ice in Thursday’s game against the Blues. Is this the issue or a symptom? That remains to be seen.
The following graph plots the expected goals for percentage (xGF%) for each of the Capitals skaters for the first 19 games of the season. [Click to enlarge].
McMichael’s decline has continued. He has by far the worst expected goals for percentage among all Capitals skaters at this point in the season. Again, very uncharacteristic of McMichael.
The next graph plots the expected goals for minus expected goals against for each of the Capitals skaters through the first 19 games of the season:
Once again, McMichael finds himself at the bottom. Again, very uncharacteristic of his game.
As you can see the decline has continued for McMichael. Is it due to his new part time role? Possibly, although McMichael thrived playing (inexplicably) minor minutes last season. Does he need to play every day to reach his potential. Also very possible, but very difficult to accurately determine at this point.
Is there another issue or issues at play? Also very possible. What’s changed since the end of last season? That’s a much harder question to answer.
Because we closely track and watch games for each and every Capitals prospect from their draft day forward, I’ve had the pleasure of closely following McMichaels development over the last three years, including his time with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and all of his games in Hershey. He has NHL-level skills and is an NHL-caliber player. I firmly believe that. But something has changed.
To me, I see a player with a lot less confidence this season, something that fueled his play in the OHL, on the Canadian Junior team and during his time in Hershey. He will likely return to Hershey in the coming days, possibly when Dmitry Orlov returns, so hopefully he can restore his confidence while in Chocolate town. He’ll be back in DC.
By Jon Sorensen