Connor McMichael has been trying to crack the Washington Capitals’ lineup for the past three years. Now he might get that chance.
“I think he’s ready. I think he’ll probably start off in different positions. He might be playing wing to start, but eventually we’re gonna get him to center at some point. I don’t know the timeframe on that,” president of hockey operations and general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He had a good year last year. We’re really happy about his progress. But we’ll see where he ends up.”
McMichael played in six games with the Capitals last year but struggled to find his game. He did not register a point and eventually got sent back down to the AHL. He played well with the Hershey Bears, racking up 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists) in 57 games, but it was an up and down year.
But the 2019 first-round pick believes that being a part of Hershey’s 12th Calder Cup run, and being a contributing factor, will help him take the next step.
“I think it just builds confidence. I think it just means that I can play in those big games in big situations. And it’s something that I’m looking to build on in camp and taking that into the season,” McMichael said. “I want to make the team and not only make the team and stay here all year.”
The 22-year-old is known to create offense and be a swiss army knife type player that can play in any situation. When he was demoted back in November 2022, the biggest thing he had to address was his overall 200-foot game. It got better and better the more he played and wanted to continue to build on that over the summer.
“I think I’ve just matured into the pro game a lot better. I think I worked on my two-way game which is needed [in the NHL] obviously, and a lot of faceoffs and whatever I needed. So yeah, I think we had a good year in Hershey working on those little details.”
Along with being a more grown up player on the ice, the Scarborough, Ontario native learned how to carry himself away from the rink.
“From not seeing him over the last two years, you can just tell when I see him, talk to him, he’s just a more mature human being,” Capitals coach Spencer Carbery said. “These players are so young when they come into the league. When I had Mike’s [when he was] 19 [or] 20 those two years or one year, I mean that’s a really, really young hockey player. All of a sudden, he’s 22 years old, and I looked at him and I go ‘that’s an NHL player.’ He looks the part, he’s matured, he speaks like it, he looks like it.”
Along with reuniting with Carbery, who coached McMichael in Chocolate Town, another reason why the young center should be excited is his potential linemates. He was on the left side with Dylan Strome centering and TJ Oshie on the right. Though McMichael plays his best when he is in the faceoff dot, the Caps want to see him play on the wing with experienced players.
“I’ve been bouncing questions off them. They’re two easy players to play with. They make really good plays and they’re obviously smart out there. So I’m just trying to read off them and do the best I can,” McMichael said.
But while McMichael is a more mature player, he still brings the much-needed youth that the Capitals need headed into the 2023-24 season.
By Jacob Cheris