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Will Capitals Send McMichael To Hershey? Closer Look At Situation

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Washington Capitals

ARLINGTON, V.A. — As the Washington Capitals filed off the ice after their morning skate on Saturday, Connor McMichael stayed on the ice for more work with extras Matt Irwin and Beck Malenstyn. It has become something of a routine for McMichael, which stopped for his season debut on Thursday and started back up after he found himself as the odd man out again vs. the Kings.

For the 21-year-old, five scratches in six games, and one game with a fight, three blocks and a hit through 8:33 minutes, is not an ideal way to start off his sophomore season as he looks to build off his 68-game rookie year, where he dished 18 points. And considering a myriad of other circumstances, it appears that the next logical step is for him to head to the AHL’s Hershey Bears.

First off, McMichael is not getting the ice time or game experience he needs while up with the Capitals. The NHL is ever-changing, with games getting faster and more intense, the battles getting harder and goalies getting stronger. It’s something that cannot be mimicked in practice, which is something that even Irwin, whose role is to be that constant healthy scratch and then draw in when the time comes, admits. While Irwin is a veteran that has been playing that role for a long time, McMichael hasn’t.

And for No. 24, jumping right back into the pace of an NHL game isn’t good for his development, especially at center. When McMichael does play, he’s usually not getting much ice time. And when he is out there, he hasn’t shown much with regard to puck battles, finishing his chances or making an impact at both ends of the ice.

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Not to mention, McMichael is in a bit of a tough spot right now when it comes to winning the competition for roster spots. He couldn’t capitalize on his preseason to win the full-time second-line center role. And when both he and Joe Snively got to dress with Evgeny Kuznetsov suspended and Connor Brown out long-term, Snively proved to be more noticeable and won the extra spot with Brown out. Plus, with Sonny Milano entering the picture — and likely getting a call-up after getting up to speed at the AHL level — McMichael will again face another battle in which Milano holds the upper hand given his years of experience.

Down in Hershey, he can not only play the center role but also remain a regular and get the top-6 minutes and ice time he needs. He’s still young and coming into his own, and right now, there’s not really an open vacancy for him on the roster.

In addition, McMichael will get more responsibility and will be able to continue building on his game and acclimating to playing against the pros every night. He did that for 68 games last season but barely averaged 10 minutes a night. Down with the Bears, the 6-0, 185-pound forward will play a top-6 role and go up against grown men. Plus, he will thrive at the AHL level and find more confidence while also getting to build on other areas of his game like face-offs, defensive play and roles on special teams.

If Washington does assign him, it will likely come with a subsequent Milano recall in the near future. Milano has a goal and assist through two games to open his run with Hershey and is doing a fine job of getting back into game shape.

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While it may be disappointing for McMichael to go back to the AHL after completing his rookie year in 2022-23, it is the next best step for him if he wants to make it as a top-6 player in his career.

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