As the Capitals skated line rushes in Monday's practice at MedStar Iceplex, it was Connor McMichael centering the third line and not Hendrix Lapierre.
Neither McMichael nor Washington coach Peter Laviolette would confirm the lineup change for Tuesday's game against the Colorado Avalanche, but it certainly appears as if McMichael will be making his season debut.
"It’s a good sign and I’m skating with those guys and I thought we had a pretty good practice today so if I do get in [Tuesday], I’ll be ecstatic," McMichael said.
McMichael, the Capitals first-round draft pick in 2019, watched the first two games as a healthy scratch with 2020 first-round draft pick Lapierre making his NHL debut instead.
With Nicklas Backstrom out on long-term injured reserve, the Capitals had an obvious need at center, the position the team's top two draft picks just so happen to play. That means Lars Eller has been bumped up to the second line and it falls on Lapierre and McMichael to carry the load on the third. At least for now.
"We obviously have a void that we need to fill for a little bit and those two guys are natural centermen, they're both here, they're both young," Laviolette said. "This is their real first opportunity to get in and out of games and so we want to take a look at both of them and get an evaluation on where they're both at just for moving forward as a push to the point where hopefully Nick joins us back and we'll have a better read on them."
Tuesday may be everyone's first chance to get a read on McMichael this season, after a successful year in the AHL, to see just how much he has developed.
Because the pandemic shut down McMichael's junior league, the OHL, for the 2020-21 season, McMichael got the chance to play in the AHL a year earlier than is typically allowed. The 20-year-old scored 14 goals and 27 points in 33 games and will try to duplicate that offensive success in the NHL where he will play beside Conor Sheary and T.J. Oshie.
“They’re two amazing players," McMichael said. "Oshie is really good with the puck and Shears is pretty quick. That’s what I think I have in my game, so I think I’ll be able to do great on that line and we had some pretty good chemistry and practice.”
McMichael made his NHL debut last season, but that game was in the pandemic season in an empty Capital One Arena. Now he will get the chance to play in front of fans and his family, who he said he believed would be in attendance.
"The crowd really brought the energy for the boys and I heard all the guys talking about it in the room, so I’m really looking forward to that experience and a real game with real fans," McMichael said.
One of the great moments from the opener against the New York Rangers was Lapierre scoring his first NHL goal. The excitement among his teammates and fans was evident as Oshie picked Lapierre up off the ice to celebrate.
McMichael will be hoping to create a special moment of his own Tuesday, and he even has a goal song, though he won't reveal it.
When asked what it was, McMichael only said, “Hopefully you guys will find out [Tuesday].”