The Washington Capitals made several roster moves on Saturday morning with Alex Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov off the COVID Unavailability List and Justin Schultz out hurt.
The Capitals announced that they promoted Philippe Maillet from Hershey to the Capitals’ Taxi Squad. The Capitals also announced that they had sent Connor McMichael to Hershey.
#Caps re-assign forward Philippe Maillet from Hershey to Washington taxi squad, and re-assign forward Connor McMichael from Washington taxi squad to Hershey
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) January 30, 2021
The McMichael-to-Hershey announcement was an eye-brow raiser because it wasn’t previously known that McMichael was eligible to play for the Bears this season. Under an agreement between the CHL and the NHL, “players drafted and playing for CHL teams are ineligible to play in the professional minor leagues (AHL, ECHL) until they are 20 years old (by December 31st of that year) or have completed four years in major juniors.” During a normal year, McMichael, a member of the OHL’s London Knights, would not be eligible to play in the AHL because he turned 20 on January 15. The rule is in place to keep the major Canadian junior leagues competitive.
Back in December, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan believed that he would be able to keep Connor on the team’s taxi squad during the weird pandemic year.
Junior eligible players like McMichael, who are under 20-years-old, would normally only be eligible to play in the NHL or their junior team. MacLellan though said that “from my understanding,” junior eligible players could be on the taxi squad – a rare in-between that could stash top prospects in the NHL while junior leagues struggle to hold their seasons during the pandemic. The OHL is currently targeting February 4 to start its season.
“Obviously you don’t want young guys not playing and sitting on a taxi squad the whole year if there’s availability for them to play somewhere else,” MacLellan said. “I think it would hurt their development. And then also, if there’s not an ability to play it might be beneficial for them to be on the taxi squad. I think we’re going to balance development, what the coaches feel we need roster wise, and also, you can change your taxi squad as you go. You can take guys in and out. There’s flexibility there that we might take advantage of too. I think it’s going to be based on what our coaches think we need and development of players.”
After winning silver at the WJC and flying to DC, McMichael quarantined for a week and joined the Capitals at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. He was placed on the Capitals taxi squad before eventually making his NHL debut on January 24 against the Buffalo Sabres. Days later, he was re-assigned to the taxi squad where he stayed before today’s news.
TSN’s Frank Seravalli tweeted in January that “if major junior hockey does not start up again and NHL/CHL allow it, junior-aged players WILL be eligible to play in the AHL this season.”
It's primarily an NHL-CHL issue, but if major junior hockey does not start up again and NHL/CHL allow it, junior-aged players WILL be eligible to play in the AHL this season. Must have been 18 years old by Sept. 15.
(No draft eligible players will be eligible for AHL.)
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) January 4, 2021
So apparently, the CHL allowed it with the OHL’s 2020-21 season suspended indefinitely and with no public plans to begin again.
Ultimately, McMichael’s early admittance into the AHL will be good for his development during a strange pandemic year that has seen the Capitals top prospect in the gym more than on the ice playing hockey.
The Bears will play 36 games this season.
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