WASHINGTON, D.C. — As Connor McMichael stands in the Washington Capitals dressing room, he looks like — and sounds like — a different player than he was just a few months back.
The 21-year-old appears more confident, more sure of himself. He’s bigger, too, following a productive offseason that saw him add five pounds of muscle and fine-tune several aspects of his game. And, having grown in several areas of his game, he is ready to play a bigger role in D.C. in 2022-23.
“I got really used to the fast pace out there, and I know what it takes to compete and battle against the bigger and stronger guys,” McMichael said. “Taking that into the summer, I focused on getting bigger, strong. Putting on a little muscle. And I think I did a good job of that.”
McMichael is fresh off a rookie year filled with ups and downs. While he got to remain an NHL regular and finished with nine goals and nine assists while also showcasing his quick hands and talent in the offensive zone, McMichael was on the win rather than at his preferred center position. His ice time was also on the lower end, as he averaged just over 10 minutes per game.
So now, with Nicklas Backstrom out long-term following hip resurfacing surgery, McMichael has seen his ideal position open up as the second-line center, and he’s ready to compete for it.
“My whole life I’ve played center… that’s my natural position, and that’s where I want to perform,” McMichael affirmed.
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McMichael played that role on Sunday, as he slotted in between Alexander Suzdalev and Anthony Mantha. He finished the night with solid numbers, having won seven of 10 faceoffs (70 percent) while managing two shots, a takeaway and two PIM in 15:55, while also getting time on the power play and penalty kill.
“I like both of those roles, and I like how the coaches are testing me out there, so hopefully I can stick to it,” McMichael said.
The Ontario native wants to maintain that spot going into October, but it won’t come easy. McMichael faces heavy competition, as new addition Dylan Strome is also looking to play that center role. Not only that, but Lars Eller also wants to show that he is capable of top-6 minutes. Then, of course, there are dark horses for spots, like center Hendrix Lapierre.
“We’ve brought in a lot of really good players this summer. There’s going to be competitions for certain spots. I know it’s been a position that I’m in to battle with other guys.”
Ultimately, though, McMichael welcomes that competition, and he is embracing the challenge of getting Peter Laviolette to trust him as a permanent 2C with the Capitals.
“It’s always a good thing, to have to battle with your teammates and kind of compete for certain spots,” McMichael said. “It’s good to kind of get a kick in your ass and get going a little bit. I’m having a lot of fun.”
In addition to training with Gary Roberts this summer, McMichael also made sure to work on maintaining his speed.
Overall, though, McMichael said that adaptability is important, and in the end, he’s ready to do whatever he can to be an impact player for Washington. He just hopes that’s down the middle on the top-6.
“It’s always good when guys can be versatile and play up and down the lineup in different positions,” McMichael said. “That’s something I pride myself on. If a winger goes down, I can fill that role. Center goes down, I can also step in. I think it’s a big part of my game.”