ARLINGTON, V.A. — Washington Capitals forward Connor McMichael found himself stepping into a big role on Tuesday when he took the ice for an atypical morning skate at MedStar Capitals Iceplex.
McMichael saw Alex Ovechkin miss a morning skate due to injury — something McMichael has never seen since he joined the big club — and in turn, the rookie found himself skating in his childhood hero’s spot on the top line as the team braced for a Tuesday tilt against the New York Islanders.
“Connor’s played really well and I’m not going to take any of the centermen out of the middle of the ice right now,” head coach Peter Laviolette said. Connor’s played a lot of left wing this year. I thought that the lines have been really good for 10 games now and they’ve been fairly consistent now that we’ve had a healthy lineup and we’ve been able to generate and produce and win hockey games and find success… It’s a great opportunity for him. We roll four lines and we’ll see how that goes.”
For McMichael, filling in for Ovechkin is more than the role of an understudy; it’s a chance to prove he can be a constant in the lineup.
“I think it’s a huge opportunity for me to prove myself going into the playoffs and kind of prove to the coaches that when guys do get hurt that I’m ready to fill that void,” McMichael said.
Through 66 games this season, McMichael has nine goals and nine assists. However, he has experienced inconsistency this season and has also seen his ice time fluctuate and ice time dwindle on more than one occasion. McMichael has also been a healthy scratch of late and is one of the odd men out when the team has a fully healthy lineup.
While it is something that has weighed on the 20-year-old forward, it hasn’t changed his mindset or approach.
“[Sitting] has been tough. You never want to be out of the lineup, but like I said, when I do, I want to prove to the coaches that I’m able to fill voids when needed,” McMichael noted, adding, “I think I still have a lot of confidence, you know? A couple pucks went my way [of late]. I found the back of the net a couple of times, so it was nice to just get me a little confidence boost and play my own game and not worry about making mistakes.”
Playing on the top line, McMichael is excited to see how his speed and knack for the net click well with Kuznetsov and Wilson, who have been two of Ovechkin’s constant linemates over the last few seasons. And, when it comes to the “well, prove it” part of Tuesday’s game, he’s ready to show what he can do.
“Kuzy and Willy, they have been the driving force on the team for a few years now. Every time I’ve been on the ice with those guys, it’s fun to be with them. They make my game a lot easier,” McMichael said. “[The plan is to] just play my game… it’s a line that typically is generating some scoring chances. I think that’s something I’m looking to do as well.”