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Capitals Prospect Report: Connor McMichael is on pace for a special season

Capitals Prospect Report: Connor McMichael is on pace for a special season

Guys, we need to talk about Connor McMichael.

First off, he had another ridiculous week:

  • On Thursday, Nov. 7 he scored a goal for Team OHL in the Canada-Russia Series in a 4-1 win for the OHL.
  • On Friday, Nov. 8 he scored one goal and three assists in a 4-3 win for London over North Bay. He was named the first star of the game.
  • On Saturday, Nov. 9 he scored one goal and two assists in a 4-2 win for London over Owen Sound. He was again named the first star of the game.
  • On Monday, Nov. 11 he scored a goal in the OHL's second game in the Canada-Russia Series, this time in a losing effort to Russia.

What we really need to talk about is how absurdly McMichael is dominating the OHL. He currently leads the league in points with 41. Arthur Kaliyev and Quinton Byfield are right behind him at 39 points, but both players have played in 21 games. McMichael has played in just 16. Of those 16 games, he has been held off the scoresheet in only one of them. He has registered 19 goals and 22 assists. In 2006-07, Patrick Kane recorded an incredible 62-goal, 145-point season. Through the first 16 games of that season, per The London Free Press, Kane had scored five fewer goals and had seven fewer points.

That's right, McMichael has compiled 41 points in just 16 games. That is a rate of 2.56 points per game. According to McKeen Hockey, that is the second-highest rate of points per game in the OHL among U19 players of all-time, second only to Eric Lindros.

It is still early in the season and that is one heck of a pace he's producing at, but we could be looking at a very special season for him.  That of course begs the question, just how good could this guy be in the NHL?

Other prospect notes

  • Aliaksei Protas sits tied for the WHL lead in points with 30. Earlier in the week he was in sole possession of the league lead meaning that Caps prospects were simultaneously leading both the OHL and WHL in points.
  • Riley Sutter was officially reassigned to Hershey over the week. Because he was injured before the season, he was still technically with the Caps on non-roster season-opening injured reserve. He had been sent to Hershey several weeks ago along with Kody Clark to continue training there, but could not officially be sent to the AHL until he was medically cleared.
  • Nova Caps spoke with Martin Fehervary about his first season in North America. “The hockey in Sweden compared to North America, the style is very similar," he said. "It’s fast hockey, they skate really well so its fast hockey. It’s kind of the same, I would say here it’s a little bit faster but the adjustment was kind of easy so far.” You can read the full article here.
  • Pheonix Copley accomplished a rare feat on Wednesday as he recorded a shutout in a loss. Hershey lost 1-0 in a shootout to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Copley saved all 29 shots he faced in the game to record the shutout, but the Bears ultimately lost in the shootout so he collected the "L" as well.
  • Mitchell Gibson made his collegiate debut on Friday for Harvard. He started against Princeton and stopped all 31 shots he faced for the shutout win. He was given the start again on the following day against Quinnipiac and again had a strong showing with 32 saves on 34 shots in the 7-2 win.
  • Mike Sgarbossa had one of the highlights of the week with his shootout goal against Lehigh Valley.

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What's the plan in net beyond 2020-21?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What's the plan in net beyond 2020-21?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want answered in the next mailbag? You can submit your questions here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Justin Cade writes: It seems like the general consensus between the pipes for 2020-21 is that Braden Holtby walks and a proven backup comes in to help Ilya Samsonov settle in as an NHL #1. How do you see the future of the goaltender position in Washington beyond next season? If Samsonov proves to be a reliable starter, do the Caps call up Vanecek to back him up for years to come?

The Caps’ goalie pipeline currently consists of Pheonix Copley and Vitek Vanecek in Hershey and Mitchell Gibson who is playing college hockey at Harvard. I am not really sure what to make of Gibson yet. He was OK, but not great in the USHL, but was really good in his freshman year at Harvard. I don’t know what the potential is there yet.

As for Copley and Vanecek, I see the ceiling for both as being NHL backups, at least in the traditional sense. As the NHL goes more and more toward tandems, that complicates things. I think Copley is a traditional backup, but I don’t want a situation where he is playing 30+ games per year. I think Vanecek has the higher ceiling, but I don’t see him as an NHL starter so I think there could be potential for a Samsonov-Vanecek tandem in the future with Samsonov being the primary starter. But I don’t know if that’s how the Caps see it.

If the team does indeed go the experienced backup route for next season, just how long that backup is signed for could be an indication for what Brian MacLellan views Vanecek’s future with the franchise will be. A three-year deal for an established No. 2 probably means Vanecek will be playing somewhere else before too long.

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Scott Egbert writes: Would Alex Ovechkin retire soon?

Ovechkin has given no indication that he is going to retire soon or that he is even fading as he currently sits tied with David Pastrnak for the league lead in goals with 48. Could he be a Barry Sanders and walk away while still being one of the best in the game? I really don’t see it. I think his love for the game of hockey and fierce competitiveness will drive him to continue on. He may not want to talk about it, but he has laid the groundwork for a possible run at Wayne Gretzky's goal record. It is going to be really hard for him to walk away from that.

When Nicklas Backstrom discussed his five-year extension, he mentioned that Ovechkin was asking him all the time about it. I don’t think that was because he wanted to make sure Backstrom was around just next season. I think he was looking down the road.

No, I do not see Ovechkin retiring any time soon. Then again, he is 34 so we are definitely on the back-end of his career so it is fair to wonder just how many more years he has left.

Justin Cade writes: Which Caps player do you think is most likely to be lost to Seattle in the expansion draft?

Assuming that Washington elects the option of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, my best guess would be we see the Caps protect Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Lars Eller and Jakub Vrana. Notice that is only six forwards. I don’t really see any other forwards they would really need to protect. They may have the flexibility to protect T.J. Oshie if they wanted, but he will be 34 years old at that point and still have an additional four years left on his contract with a cap hit of $5.75 million. He is a marketable player that I think Seattle could have some interest in, especially given his ties to the area, but only if his production hasn’t fallen off a cliff by that point.

On defense, the situation is a bit hazier.

First, per my understanding, neither Alex Alexeyev nor Martin Fehervary will be eligible to be selected so Washington won’t need to protect either of them. John Carlson absolutely will be protected, but the two players after him are a question mark. If it were me, I would protect Jonas Siegenthaler and I ultimately believe that is what they will do. Then it is a choice between Dmitry Orlov and Michal Kempny.

I think Orlov is a very good, top-four puck-moving defenseman who is frequently underrated by fans who just point to his turnovers and see nothing else. To me, he is worth protecting. That seems like an easy call now with how much Kempny has struggled this year, but this becomes much more difficult if Kempny returns to form.

So to summarize, I believe the two most likely players to be taken will be either Oshie or Kempny.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, you can submit it here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

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Best comebacks of 2019-20 bracket: A Long Island miracle vs. beating the Bolts

Best comebacks of 2019-20 bracket: A Long Island miracle vs. beating the Bolts

With the NHL hitting pause on the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Washington is looking back at the highlights from the first 69 games of the regular season. The Comeback Caps dug many holes and climbed back out of a large number of them, so we created a bracket to identify the best comeback of the season. 

Round 1: Ovi’s hat trick leads Caps 5-goal 3rd period to beat Isles (Ryan Billie) vs. Orlov’s OT winner completes comeback vs Bolts (Mark Zaner) 

The Set-up 

 

RB: The final game before the All-Star break can get lost quickly as the promise of a week off following 60 minutes of hockey looms large. Washington’s final game before the break, taking on the New York Islanders on the road, started out well enough with Alex Ovechkin seemingly destined to continue his torrid pace, scoring the game’s first goal just a little over halfway through the first period on a beautiful send-in from Nicklas Backstrom. But from there, everything went wrong.  

Sloppy play in their own zone led to two goals for the Islanders late in the first, with Brock Nelson and Casey Cizikas capitalizing and giving the hosts the lead after one. The second period wasn’t much better, with Jordan Eberle picking up a power play goal on a pass that deflected in off Braden Holtby. But the critical moment came with 2:35 left in the second. Devon Toews capped a nice passing play with his first goal of the game and then followed it up by mocking Evgeny Kuznetsov’s bird celebration. That would prove to be a regrettable decision.

MZ: The day after Thanksgiving featured the first matchup of the season between two heavy-hitters in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals looked like they had a little too much tryptophan in their system early. The Lightning struck three times in the first two periods and completely tilted the ice in their favor. Defending Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov assisted on all three goals. Kuznetsov’s power play goal was the only positive early on. Washington trudged into the second intermission down 3-1. 

The Comeback 

RB: With just one period to go before the All-Star break, instead of folding the tents, the Caps decided to step on the gas. And the Islanders never knew what hit them.  

Carl Hagelin started the third-period onslaught just 2 and half minutes in with a greasy goal in front of Semyon Varlamov, cutting the lead to 2. There was life.   

Just about three minutes later, the Capitals went from having life to having all of the momentum. Ovechkin, off a great feed from John Carlson, flew down the wing, dangled past Scott Mayfield, and knocked the puck in off of Ryan Pulock. It was one of those goals that we’ve come to expect from Ovechkin, the type of goals that leave the opposing defensemen looking up to the scoreboard to wonder “What the hell just happened?” It was at that moment you could sense that this comeback was going to happen.

The Islanders had no answer for the Caps in the third, mustering just seven shots in the period. They were hanging on for dear life, and after a Tom Wilson deflection goal off a Dmitry Orlov slapshot, it appeared they just wanted to leave the building with a point. Jakub Vrana had other ideas…   

T.J. Oshie out-muscled Toews (Irony? Karma?) at the Islander blueline to get the puck into the offensive zone. Josh Bailey’s lazy clearing attempt was swiped by Vrana who then took two strides towards Varlamov and fired off a wicked wrist shot, top shelf, game over.

There was one more piece of business before the final horn. Ovechkin picked up his second straight hat trick with an empty netter to seal the deal. 

MZ: The biggest catalyst in the comeback was Dmitry Orlov. He forced the neutral zone turnover that started Washington towards their second goal. His poke check led to Vrana and Oshie playing give-and-go and Vrana finished the play with a quick shot from inside the right circle. It was so quick, no one saw it go in. It took the refs at least five seconds to figure out where the puck was. Just 3:45 into the third period the Capitals were back within a goal. 


The Caps turned to Old Reliable to tie the game a few minutes later.

Washington was on the man-advantage. Ovechkin. From “the office”. One-timer. Goal.

It was Ovechkin’s 17th of the season and Orlov got the primary assist. 


In overtime, it was Orlov again. He wanted to pass to Wilson who was charging toward the net. The lane never materialized, so Orlov took the wrist shot instead. Andrei Vasilevskiy was cheating toward Wilson and Orlov’s shot surprised him for the game-winner. 

The Importance 

RB: Ovechkin passed Mario Lemieux on the all-time goals list and tied Steve Yzerman for ninth on his climb to 700. This game sent the Caps into the All-Star break on a three-game winning streak and cemented them as the best team in the league with 71 points. Couldn’t ask for much more. 

MZ: The Capitals won less than 24 hours later against Detroit and wrapped up the month of November with a 10-2-2 record. Washington ended the month with the best record in the NHL and was playing some of its best hockey of the season entering December. The Caps also established early in the season that the game was never over until the final buzzer. Four of their ten wins in November were comebacks in one form or another. 

Which comeback gets your vote? 

RB: It’s always good to beat a division foe. Even better to beat a division foe… on the road… after being down four goals… after being mocked by said division foe… and having your captain notch a second straight hat trick. This game literally had it all. 

MZ: No doubt about it, the win against the Islanders was one of the best moments of the season so far. A huge comeback, a hat trick from Ovechkin and comeuppance for a villain like Toews. Orlov coming up with a multi-point game doesn’t quite hold the same cache. 

The only way I can sell the comeback win over Tampa being better is because of the quality of the opponent. The Bolts are currently the second-best team in the Eastern Conference while the Islanders are clinging on to a playoff spot for dear life. These are the games that Tampa usually wins and the Islanders have made a habit of giving away.

You decide! 

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