ARLINGTON — As the Washington Capitals face several question marks in the wake of injury after injury, one has stood out: Connor McMichael.
The 21-year-old, who made the opening night roster and is in the throes of his sophomore year, has been a healthy scratch for nine of 11 games to open the season. In the two games he has played, McMichael has gotten the chance to fill in for injured players and also got an “unbelievable opportunity” working on the second line with T.J. Oshie out indefinitely. However, he averaged just 7:43 in those games, where he played center against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 20 and right wing against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 31. After each of those tilts, he went back to being a healthy scratch.
So, what’s the deal with No. 24?
Some critics point to the scoresheet and say that head coach Peter Laviolette has cut McMichael’s ice time, which hasn’t allowed the 2019 first-rounder to prove his worth. However, in the ice time he has gotten, McMichael hasn’t done much to prove that he deserves more after getting time playing at center and on the wing.
When McMichael has been on the ice this season, the Capitals have experienced 17 shots and one goal against, and the scoring chances are also 15-2 in favor of the opposition. While the team has four shots with No. 24 on the ice, he doesn’t have a shot or point yet this season. Overall, McMichael has the lowest scoring chances-for percentage, expected goals-for percentage and xGF. In fact, the next highest SCF% goes to Beck Malenstyn, who’s at 30.77 while McMichael is at 11.76. The goal against also came off a high-danger chance.
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Looking beyond that and at the eye test, McMichael hasn’t done much to make a statement or make himself stand out. He isn’t battling hard for pucks, using his speed or doing too much on the backcheck, albeit he has three shot blocks. McMichael did stand out with his first NHL fight while sticking up for teammate John Carlson, but it only led to him spending five minutes in the box and unable to get the chance for more ice time. He also had a noticeably bad giveaway that led to a Carolina break the other way, which would have been a surefire goal had it not been for a red-hot Darcy Kuemper.
He hasn’t had a lot of versatility, either, as he’s not a player like Malenstyn who can slide in alongside the likes of Nic Dowd or Garnet Hathaway, and he hasn’t shown he can be a T.J. Oshie, Connor Brown, Nicklas Backstrom or Tom Wilson on the top-6, either. The chemistry is just not there when it comes to him operating alongside the likes of guys like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson, who he played with on Monday. McMichael also isn’t a penalty killer, so he can’t be someone who fills in for Brown or Carl Hagelin, and he hasn’t made a case to win power-play ice time.
And despite claims, Laviolette didn’t cut Kuznetsov and Johansson’s minutes against the Hurricanes due to him not wanting to play McMichael. It was a penalty-filled game, which saw Washington go to the PK six times while Johansson also took two minor penalties in the Capitals’ 3-2 shootout loss. Otherwise, both skated over 11 minutes and played on the power play and at even strength. So no. Big names didn’t lose ice time.
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This also relates to this point: Laviolette doesn’t have anything against McMichael or the youth. Take a look at Malenstyn, Aliaksei Protas and more, who have earned minutes and opportunities due to strong play. Going off of that, there’s no personal vendetta against McMichael, either. Laviolette has praised McMichael’s drive and work ethic. The hard narrative is that McMichael needs to step up to earn his minutes.
“Mikey’s had he was here the entire year last year. He played well. There was times where I thought he looked really good, some of those games were at center. There’s times when I think young players need to continue to work on their game. But he’s a good kid he works hard every day,” Laviolette said of McMichael, adding, “There’s always decisions about drawing into the lineup and who goes in the position that’s available… Mikey’s a good player that’s developing, that’s getting better as he stays here and practices and plays games and gathers experience. He’ll continue to grow and get better.”
Looking at the grand scheme of things, McMichael may be better off in Hershey at this point, as he’d get playing time with the Bears at his natural center position and build more confidence while continuing his development. However, after a full season at the NHL level, going down may not be the best for his confidence.