“You've done it before and you can do it now. See the
positive possibilities. Redirect the substantial energy of your frustration and
turn it into positive, effective, unstoppable determination.”
-- Ralph Marston
There might be no more important currency in the relationship of coach to player as playing time. For Connor McMichael, head coach Peter Laviolette was frugal in his allocation of ice time to Connor McMichael. Only Brett Leason logged fewer than ten minutes in more games (27) than did McMichael for the Caps this season. The difference between these to players, though, is that while Leason, a rookie like McMichael, was a second round draft pick (58th overall in 2019), McMichael was a 25th overall pick in the first round of the same draft.
Fearless’ Take… Despite averaging only 10:28 in ice time per game for the Caps, seventh among the 11 rookies to skate for the club this season, he led this year’s Capitals rookie class in goals (nine), tied for first in assists (nine, with Martin Fehervary), led in points (18), led in shots on goal (105), was second in credited hits (46), led in takeaways (15), had a 3:2 ratio of takeaways to giveaways (15:10), led in first goals (three), and was second in shot-attempts for percentage at 5-on-5 among rookies who dressed for at least 15 games). The Caps were 10-4-2 in games in which he recorded at least one point and 11-3-2 in games in which he skated at least 12 minutes.
Cheerless’ Take… Hockey is a 200-foot game, cuz. He was the only one of 11 Caps rookies with a minus rating (minus-3). None of the eight forwards were on ice for more goals at even strength (30), more than twice as many as the next rookie forward in line (Aliaksei Protas: 12, although Protas did play only 33 games to McMichael’s 68). Of ten rookies registering an even strength goal differential, he finished tenth (minus-3). He was a minus player in 20 of his 68 games played. Unsurprisingly, the Caps were 8-9-3 in those games. He was not an effective player in his own end for too many stretches, and one could guess this contributed to his lack of ice time generally.
Odd McMichael Fact… Connor McMichael was the 12th player to have played for the London Knights club as an amateur to be drafted by the Capitals and the fourth to be drafted in the first round (25th overall), joining Rick Green (first overall in 1976), Jason Allison (17th overall in 1993), and John Carlson (27th in 2008, out of the Indiana Ice program before joining the Knights).
Odd McMichael Fact II… The Caps on-ice shooting plus save percentage was worst among rookies when McMichael was on the ice (97.8 percent combined; 6.8 percent shooting percentage, 91.0 percent save percentage).
Odd McMichael Fact III… Of 159 rookie forwards to take at least one faceoff this season, McMichael finished ninth in total draws taken (345).
Game to Remember… November 4th at Florida. Scoring the first goal of one’s career is memorable, but having it be meaningful is more memorable still. That was the case for Connor McMichael in an early-November game against the Panthers. Floridan skate out to a 4-1 lead 35 minutes into the game, but the Caps chipped away at the three-goal deficit, getting a pair of goals in the last two minutes of the second period (Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin) to trail by one goal entering the third period. It would be McMichael who would draw the Caps even in the seventh minute of the third period. After the Panther flubbed a 2-on-1 chance in the Caps’ end, Brett Leason found the loose puck and sent Alex Ovechkin rumbling up ice with a long-distance cross-ice pass. Ovechkin carried the puck down the left side and into the corner where he pivoted beneath the Panther goal line and sent the puck out where it was blocked into the air. The puck floated to the opposite side of the Pangher net where McMichael was circling out. When the puck settled to the ice, McMichael beat a Panther defender to it and snapped a shot past goalie Spencer Knight to tie the game at 4-4. Although the Caps would lose the game in overtime, McMichael’s late strike earned the Caps a standings point on the road, a fine way to score one’s first NHL goal.
Game to Forget… February 1st at Pittsburgh. It has to be frustrating for a rookie playing his first game on the road against arguably a team’s most bitter rival and getting little playing time in a close-fought contest. That would be McMichael’s experience when the Caps visited the Pittsburgh Penguins to open the February schedule. I only one other game did he skate fewer shifts than the eight he skated (he had seven against Columbus a week later), and his 5:09 in ice time was his lowest of the season. Not that he distinguished himself in the process, although five minutes and change does not afford a player much of a chance to make a game memorable. McMichael had only one crooked mark on his line of the score sheet, a credited hit, and he was not on ice for a goal by either side. He skated only two shifts in the third period did not skate a shift in the overtime period in which Dmitry Orlov scored in the last minute of the extra frame to give the Caps a 4-3 win.
Postseason… McMichael’s first postseason with the Caps mirrored his regular season pattern. He skated in four of the six games, the Caps losing three of them, two in overtime, including Game 6 in which the Caps were eliminated. He averaged just 6:24 in ice time per game and finished with one point, an assist in a 5-3 Caps loss in Game 5. He remains, as of ednesday’s playoff games, the player with the lowest average ice time per game among 295 skaters to playing at least four postseason games.
Looking Ahead… It might not have been the rookie season McMichael envisioned or that Caps fans hoped for, but perhaps it will serve as an object lesson. While McMichael was effective as an offensive player in his limited playing time, he had to learn the hard way that there are two ends to the rink. His getting a bigger role might depend most on whether he can become the 200-fot, two-way player the team might have been counting on when the drafted him 25th overall in 2019.
In the end…
McMichael will not turn 22 years of age until next January, but given the Caps’ age and injury issues, neither he nor the club has the luxury of tolerating a long development curve before he enters his prime years. The situation is exacerbated by the possibility that Lars Eller will be traded by the team before next season to free up cap space. Whether McMichael is penciled into that third-line center spot or having his name entered in ink will depend in large part on his giving evidence of having a more rounded game and being less of a defensive liability than he was a bit too often in 2021-2022.