Connor McMichael has come a long way from playing mini sticks hockey in his basement. The 18-year-old, whose freckled face and polite demeanor project an air of innocence, has developed into a dominant player, landing with the Washington Capitals as the 25th pick of the 2019 draft.
As McMichael works this week with his fellow prospects at Washington’s development camp at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, the team’s scouting staff is surveying how he stacks up against those with a similar competitive drive.
“He does everything well,” said Steve Richmond, the Capitals’ director of player development. “There are no real holes in his game where he’s at now. To get to the next level, he’s got to improve in everything he’s doing, but right now there are no significant holes.”
McMichael describes himself as a “200-foot center” — a reference to his ability to play the full length of the rink and contribute offensively and defensively. A native of Canada, he is expected to spend the next few years developing with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League before contending for a spot on the Capitals’ roster.
“I can play anywhere in the lineup,” McMichael said of his skill set. “I can play Line 1 or Line 4, so I think it’s going to help me in the future. I think I’ve gained Coach’s trust, so I’m really happy with that.”
McMichael had a breakout season with the Knights last year under the tutelage of Dale and Mark Hunter, former NHL players with strong ties to the Capitals organization — Dale as a former player and coach, and Mark as a former teammate of Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan. The brothers have helped develop players such as Capitals defenseman John Carlson and spoke highly of McMichael to management before draft day.
“It’s kind of cool coming to Washington knowing my coach played here and he coached here just a few years ago,” McMichael said. “We should be able to connect that way.”
Last season, McMichael contributed 72 points (36 goals and 36 assists) in 67 games and recorded five points (two goals and three assists) in 11 playoff games. NHL Central Scouting ranked him 11th among North American centers and 20th overall among forwards in this year’s draft.
While McMichael credits the Hunters with developing him over the past year, his love for the sport began with his family. Born in Ajax, Ontario, he was introduced to hockey by playing against his older brother on a small net set up in his family’s basement. His parents enrolled him in a youth skating program and McMichael latched on from there.
“I was just begging [my parents] to put me into real hockey,” McMichael said. “I started up and was trying to learn the game, and then I took off from there. I played throughout my whole life, and now I’m here.”
McMichael is the middle of five children, all of whom have played hockey. He said his parents have “been there the most out of everyone” throughout his journey and he has been checking in with them this week, but he is still processing the moment.
“It was kind of a quick turnaround,” McMichael said. “I got drafted, and then the next day I flew [from Vancouver to] here, so I think I will soak it all in once I go home after this week and I’m able to be with my family again and see my friends.”
But the work will not stop for McMichael after he returns to Ontario. He still has a long road ahead of him to improve his game. McMichael and scouts agree he needs to improve his strength and speed.
“I want to get stronger, for sure, and a little bit bigger and work on my first couple strides,” McMichael said. “I think I’m a really good skater once I get going. I just want to be a little bit more explosive to get to the next level.”
If McMichaels’ development goes as expected, Richmond believes he will be a good fit for the team.
“The future is bright for Connor,” Richmond said.