It was Connor McMichael who tallied one of the assists on Logan Day’s game-tying goal in Monday’s Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Hershey Bears and Rochester Americans.
McMichael’s assist, thanks to 57 games played in the Bears’ chocolate and tan this season, was a key moment, one that resulted in the Washington Capitals’ AHL affiliate moving one win away from the Calder Cup Finals. But after playing in 68 games with the NHL club in 2021-22, it’s almost as if McMichael should not be here.
Connor McMichael wants that starting job.
The Capitals' 2019 first-round pick gets the home team on the board, taking a feed from Alex Ovechkin and sneaking it past Ville Husso to send the game into its first intermission tied. pic.twitter.com/KqbbpSfMzu
— Matt Weyrich (@ByMattWeyrich) October 5, 2022
The Capitals’ 2019 first-round pick found himself at the mercy of head coach Peter Laviolette, whose approach placed high expectations on emerging talent — especially on a team with as much high-end talent as the Capitals — in order to find a place in the lineup. McMichael suited up for only six games with the Capitals during the 2022-23 season, tallying a mere 53 total minutes of ice time.
“[T]he young players have to come up and take and earn those minutes and outplay somebody,” Laviolette told The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir in April. “A guy like Marty Fehervary, for instance, comes in and he plays extremely well, and eventually he bumps up and he’s playing with John Carlson, but he certainly warranted that and earned that. So there’s gotta be an accountability with that. You can’t just throw players in there and start sitting the veteran players that you’re here to coach.”
But after the team’s first missed playoff appearance in nine years, the Capitals have a new bench boss. The team announced the hire of Spencer Carbery on Tuesday, bringing in a former Capitals’ minor league stalwart to be the NHL’s youngest head coach. And with Carbery, having been the Hershey Bears head coach from 2018-21, comes a familiarity with the Capitals’ emerging talent.
McMichael collected 27 points in 33 games under Carbery’s watch, but the coach’s reach stretches much further. Carbery spent considerable time coaching the likes of Joe Snively, Lucas Johansen, Riley Sutter, Garrett Pilon and Beck Malenstyn during his three-year stint with the Bears, each expected to contend for playing time on the Capitals’ fourth line this upcoming season.
Possessing one of the NHL’s oldest rosters, the Capitals stand to benefit from Carbery’s knowledge in order to infuse youth into the lineup — a priority for team general manager Brian MacLellan.
“It’s going to be different in that you want a coach that can work with young guys, and we’re gonna have a veteran group at the top that kind of needs a veteran coach,” MacLellan said in April. “It’s going to be challenging to find the right guy for that.”
For now, the Capitals appear to have found that guy.