When the Capitals head to their hub city to begin their quest for the Stanley Cup, they will bring a number of "black aces" in town.
Black aces are depth call-ups from the minor leagues who are used primarily as practice players throughout the postseason, but who can be available to dress in a game if the team needs. According to general manager Brian MacLellan, among the players he is considering as black aces this postseason is their 2019 first-round draft pick, Connor McMichael.
Bringing teams to hub cities to play the postseason is part of the NHL's return to play plan, but, in the interest of safety and risking fewer people to exposure to the coronavirus, the NHL said Monday it would limit teams to 50 people each. That's not just players, that includes coaches, PR staff, athletic trainers, equipment managers, etc.
In a video conference on Friday, MacLellan said the team had an initial list of the personnel to possibly bring to the playoffs and McMichael was on that list.
"We identified probably a little bit larger group than we're going to use," MacLellan said. "We got the roster number the other day of 28 plus unlimited goalies so we're in discussions now on how we want to use those extra players and what's the best way we can organizationally. We're talking about coaches about depth guys. We're talking about bringing in McMichael a little bit. So we have some decisions to make, but we still have some time to make those decisions and we'll make them when it's appropriate."
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McMichael had a standout season with the London Knights in the OHL, scoring 47 goals and 55 assists in 52 games. That was after an impressive training camp with Washington just a few months after getting selected 25th overall.
Before you get too excited there are a few things to note. First, because McMichael was on the initial list does not mean he will make the final one. Fifty people is not a lot and hard choices are going to have to be made to widdle the list down. Also, being a black ace does not mean he will play in the playoffs. In fact, it is most likely that he will not.
Young players like McMichael are often brought in as black aces for the experience, so they can see how the veteran players practice and prepare in the playoffs and learn from them. It sounds like that is exactly what MacLellan is hoping McMichael can glean from the experience.
"I think it would be great learning experience for Connor," MacLellan said. "He seems to be a guy that can pick up things from good players, from watching them, being around them. The feedback from him last training camp was he was engaged, he learned a lot from [Nicklas Backstrom]. He learned a lot from our veteran players. I think it takes a big leap for his development, just to be in that environment, to see how guys work, to see how guys practice, off-ice workouts, nutrition stuff, see our main guys doing it on a daily basis in a competitive environment. I think it would be invaluable for him."
But while it may not be the plan going in for McMichael to play, having him on the roster means that there is at least a chance.
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