Connor McMichael’s last year has been a whirlwind. He was drafted in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft by the Washington Capitals, participated in his first NHL training camp, mentored by a potential Hall of Famer in Nicklas Backstrom, made Team Canada’s gold-medal-winning World Junior Championship team, and scored six hat tricks for the OHL’s London Knights during the regular season. If that wasn’t enough, now there may be another first on the horizon.
McMichael, who was added to the Capitals’ 34-player roster for Phase 3 Training Camp, will travel with the team into the bubble in Toronto as a reserve, according to Capitals head coach Todd Reirden.
Reirden also would not rule out McMichael potentially suiting up for his first NHL game in the 2020 playoffs.
“I think that’s something we’re going to continue to evaluate,” Reirden said. “If we didn’t think that he was an option to be able to be played then that would be a player we wouldn’t probably bring to the hub city with us. He’s going to be there and he’s going to be in Toronto.
“He’s an option because so many things can change so quickly with what’s going to happen inside this bubble,” added Reirden. “You hope that everything goes as smoothly as you’d like but there’s going to be injuries. There’s going to be situations that are going to happen for our team. Players leaving to be with their families. So we want to play the best players that are available to us.”
Capitals’ third-line forwards Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin have both said they are planning to leave the bubble as both players have babies arriving during the 24-team playoff. Eller’s second child, a boy, is due on August 8 while Hagelin’s second child will arrive in September.
“The coaches were just telling everyone to be ready,” McMichael said. “You never know what can happen in playoffs and you need depth in the playoffs especially. I’m just ready to go when my name gets called.”
If McMichael does end up getting a sweater, he would not necessarily be playing his natural position.
“He’s a guy that can play center. We’ve got some other guys as well that have the ability to play center and also play on the wing as well,” Reirden said. “It’s not necessarily just in the middle that you might see Connor. He’s also a guy that played on the wing in World Junior. His hockey sense and his ability to not be overwhelmed by the situation [are] some really strong qualities for him as a young player.”
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan first broached the idea of McMichael joining the team for the postseason in late May but thought it’d be more of a learning experience for the team’s top prospect.
“I think it’d be a great learning experience for Connor,” MacLellan said in late May to reporters. “He seems to be a guy that can pick up things from good players, from watching them and being around them. The feedback from him from last training camp was that he was engaged. He learned a lot from Nick [Backstrom]. He learned a lot from our veteran players. I think he would take a big leap in his development just from being in that environment – to see how guys work, see how guys practice, off-ice workouts, nutrition stuff. To see our main guys doing it on a daily basis in a competitive environment I think would be invaluable for him.”
On top of the experience, McMichael will be able to continue to train and work out at a professional level. McMichael, who needs to continue to build up his 19-year-old body for the rigors of a full NHL season, struggled at times to find open gyms with all the closings due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was able to get in touch with one of my trainers back home close to my house,” McMichael said. “They opened their gym about a month before I cam here. Before that, I was just working at home in my home gym and then after that, I got together with some of my buddies and started working out at the gym again, so it was good.”
During the OHL’s regular season, McMichael showed off his budding talent, scoring 47 goals and tallying 102 points in 52 games. He was named to the OHL’s Second All-Star Team at the end of the season. While he hopes to play his first NHL game, he will also be attempting to impress Capitals brass and try to land a roster spot on next year’s team as the 2020-21 OHL season is up in the air due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I’m really excited to get another chance to finish this season out,” McMichael said. “Just do anything to help the team win. I’m really looking forward to going to Toronto and help the team out.”
Screenshot courtesy of @Capitals/Zoom
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