For as much as been talked about of the Capitals’ youth on the NHL roster, and lack of it, over the last few months and years, fans got a nice change of pace Sunday night.
While Lars Eller manned the top line, Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre were the team’s second and third line centers in a 3-2 shootout loss at Capital One Arena to kick off the preseason.
Lapierre had two points (which led all Capitals scorers) in 15:03 on ice, while McMichael was held off the scoresheet in 15:55 on the ice. For a team with cemented, but aging, centers in the NHL, those two are the most important prospects in the organization for the Capitals to sustain long-term success.
“The first period it was good to get your legs under you, and obviously we knew coming into it guys haven’t played in awhile, so just getting your legs going and mind moving again,” McMichael said. “Overall I thought we played pretty good and I’m looking forward to the next one.”
McMichael, the team’s clear-cut top prospect, centered a line with Daniel Sprong and Tom Wilson. And not to draw too much from a lone preseason game, the Capitals might see that line in NHL games this season.
Nicklas Backstrom is still recovering from a hip injury and that’s left a hole at center. McMichael, the team’s 2019 first-round draft choice, is certainly the most popular target to take that spot on the NHL roster should Backstrom not be ready to start the year.
Last year, McMichael had 27 points in 33 games for the Bears as the team’s leading scorer. For all intents and purposes, he looks ready to make the jump to the NHL game.
“Yeah I mean that is everyone’s goal that is at camp,” McMichael said, when asked about the opportunity to make the NHL team. “We all know what is at stake and we are all working hard and we are all trying to show the staff that we are ready to make the next jump, whether it is me or the next guy, I’ll be ready.”
Further down the organizational depth chart is Lapierre, who showcased his playmaking ability and his speed against the Bruins. During the game, he made his slick skating ability known and once skated around the Bruins defense to set up Joe Snively for a great chance in front of the Bruins’ net.
“You wake up from your nap and as I said earlier, you don’t really know what to expect,” Lapierre said. “You know it is going to be buzzing, you know it is going to be pretty cool, but as soon as I stepped on the ice for warm up, I felt the atmosphere...As a kid you want to play in those games, you want to be put in those situations and show yourself as much as you can so the atmosphere was awesome.”
Lapierre is likely still a little bit away from cracking the NHL lineup daily, but that doesn’t mean Capitals fans should be any less excited about the 19 year old. For the Chicoutimi Sagueneens last season, he had 31 points in 21 games, including a 12 point outburst in nine playoff games.
Still, with a full season and no injury concerns any longer for the young center, the Capitals have two talented skaters coming up the organizational ranks. And there was a nice glimpse of what they can bring on Sunday against the Bruins.
“Like Hendrix said, it is the best players in the world,” McMichael said. “And it is going to be the little things that separate you from the next guy.”