Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Washington Capitals 2022-2023 Previews -- Forwards: Connor McMichael

Connor McMichael

“Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance.”
-- Samuel Johnson

Youth and patience are often incompatible, and while fans (including this one) cannot know what goes on in locker rooms or a player’s head, one might imagine that Connor McMichael was frustrated to the point of impatience with the manner in which his ice time was managed in 2021-2022.  But whether it was frustrating for McMichael, Caps fans, or both, it should not cloud the fact that despite the obstacles, McMichael still had a pretty good year for a rookie.  Of 244 rookie skaters to dress for games in 2022-2022, McMichael was tied for 18th in games played (68), 19th in goals (nine), and 25th in points (18).  Of 91 rookies to dress for at least 20 games, only seven had fewer giveaways per 60 minutes than McMichael (0.84).  In that same group he took only 0.08 penalties per game, 12th fewest in the group.  And the Caps were 39-20-9 with McMichael in the lineup, 5-6-3 when he was not.

Odd McMichael Fact… There probably isn’t much analysis done on any relationship between blocked shots and game outcomes, but the Caps were 15-4-2 in 21 games in which McMichael was credited with at least one blocked shot.

Fearless’ Take… McMichael had a decent start to the season.  He did have seven goals in his first 44 games and was not particularly shy about shooting the puck (71 shots) despite averaging just 10:25 in ice time per game.  Despite his ice time being managed very closely, the Caps did well when he got more of it, going 11-3-2 in the 16 games in which he skated at least 12 minutes.

Cheerless’ Take… McMichael’s ice time was a bit odd on a game to game basis, at least on the high end of his ice times.  It was not as if he was yanked and had large chunks of ice time taken away for whatever shortcomings the coaching staff saw.  Only eight times in 68 games did he play 13 minutes or more (six of those before Thanksgiving), only once did he skate more than 15 minutes.  Of 159 rookie forwards to dress for games this season, only 20 were on ice for more even strength goals against than McMichael (30).  He also had a brutal stretch run, going just 2-1-3, minus-4, over his last 24 games.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2022-2023

  • 100 career games (he has 69)
  • 1,000 career minutes (722)

The Big Question… Can McMichael make the big leap in performance from rookie to sophomore season? 

OK, technically, this will be McMichael's third season with the Caps (he played in three games in 2020-2021).  Last season was a learning experience.  It was also something of a cold splash of water in the face for the rookie.  A player who put up gaudy numbers in junior (83 goals and 174 points over his last two years with the London Knights) and who led his Hershey Bears squad in goals (14) and points (27) in his only season in Hershey, he put up much more modest numbers in his first NHL season. 

There are few Caps for whom preseason might be critical than for McMichael.  There was a considerable amount of unrealized potential last season, not all of it on his shoulders (his performance might have dictated ice time, but that was a decision for coaches to make).  It is unsurprising that there be that gap between potential and performance for a rookie, so there is the possibility that McMichael could make a big leap in role and production this season.  With the top six in an uncertain state, he has an opportunity to stake a claim on one of the winger spots on a scoring line (even with Nicklas Backstrom out, he would seem to have little likelihood of centering either of the top two lines.  But on the other hand, there might not be a forward who could end up on any of the bottom three lines or in the press box to start the season.

In the end…

It might seem to fans that Connor McMichael did not get the fairest treatment with respect to ice time this season, that the coaching staff seemed to have placed a bull-eye on his jersey and kept him on a short leash (nice metaphor-mixing there, cuz….

…thanks, Cheerless).  On the other hand, it is important to remember that McMichael was a very green commodity.  Yes, he was a first round draft pick, but he was also only a year removed from junior hockey on Opening Night last season and played only 33 games with Hershey in his only professional season, less than half a normal regular season’s worth of games (the AHL played in abbreviated 33-game season in 2020-2021).  As talented as he is and with as much potential as he has, there were gaps in his game, primarily in the defensive end of the ice, that were exposed and that must be addressed.

In his favor, McMichael has a far better developmental pedigree than most.  Two seasons with the London Knights (a team record of 85-40-11), where he ranks 17th in team history in goals per game (0.59; of 260 players playing in at least 100 games) and 30th in points per game (1.22).  A season, abbreviated as it was, with the flagship franchise of the AHL in the Hershey Bears, where he led the team in goals and points.  One gets the feeling that eventually he is going to be alright in the offensive end of the ice, that what he needs to do is persevere in that end and shore up his weaknesses in the other end.  But there is also the matter of a closing window of competition for this team and the injury situation it confronts to start the season.  Think of McMichael as needed “perseverance with urgency.”

Projection: 72 games, 15-19-34, even