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Meet Caps first-round draft pick Connor McMichael

Meet Caps first-round draft pick Connor McMichael

Connor McMichael sat in the stands at Rogers Arena in Vancouver growing more anxious by the minute as the first round of the NHL Entry Draft ticked by pick by pick on Friday night. 

Maybe there was no consensus on whether the London Knights center would be selected in the first round. There was a run on defensemen, after all, and some pretty talented offensive players were slipping. But that’s not how McMichael thinks. Finally, at No. 25, the Capitals made his dream come true.  

“Every pick that went by I was getting a little bit more worried because obviously you want to go as high as possible,” McMichael told reporters in Vancouver. "But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day I’m happy to be a Capital.” 

A 5-foot-11, 182-pound center, McMichael is a few years away from that. According to Washington assistant general manager Ross Mahoney, who has seen more than his fair share of young players in 20 years running amateur drafts, McMichael will return to London and spend the next two years there developing his game under former Capitals captain Dale Hunter and his brother, Mark. This won’t be a pick with an immediate payoff. Few of them in the NHL are. 

“He’s got a great shot. He can score goals,” Mahoney said. “Think he had 36 [goals] and 36 [assists]. But he is a goal scorer. I mean some kids score goals in junior, but this kid is a goal scorer.”

McMichael is a known commodity. He was the 11thoverall pick in the Ontario Hockey League draft in 2017. He spent the first 32 games of his rookie season in 2017-18 playing for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. 

But as fate would have it, the Bulldogs were a talented team on their way to an OHL championship and wanted to add a big-name talent. London was re-tooling – a rare move in the two decades the Hunters have owned the team. This is, after all, the place where NHL stars like John Tavares and John Carlson and Corey Perry, among dozens of others, have played. 

So Hamilton dealt McMichael, still just 16 at the time, to London for star forward Robert Thomas, who’d been drafted by the St. Louis Blues and was ticketed for the NHL. That proved true. Thomas made the Blues out of training camp this past season and helped them win the Stanley Cup.  

“I kind of got traded for Robert Thomas last year. I actually live in his old billet house. So, yeah, I’m kind of following in his footsteps,” McMichael told NBC. “He played in the league that I’m in last year so it just makes you realize how close you are to your dream and what can happen in the future.”

That future is still a ways away. Thomas was a special case. But the Capitals believe they have drafted someone who can be a fine two-way player in the NHL. That’s how McMichael describes himself. He has good hands and a hard, accurate shot that gets scouts’ attention. If his skating needs some work, his confidence definitely does not. 

“When I have the puck on my stick in the o-zone I’m always creating plays and able to generate chances when it looks like there’s no chances to be made,” McMichael said. 

While scouts may cluck at his skating, McMichael insists it's his first few strides that need work. Once he gets going he moves around the ice at speed. Developing in London, where he will play with elite talent and be tutored by coaches who have seen it all, will help. So will two more years of strength and conditioning. Draft night is a dream come true for these players, but also only the beginning of their work.  

The talent in London might have worked against McMichael this season. The Knights acquired center Kevin Hancock from Owen Sound in January. He finished fifth in the OHL in scoring (52 goals, 55 assists). NHL draft picks Paul Cotter (Vegas), Alex Formenton (Ottawa) and Liam Foudy (Columbus) are all a year older than McMichael and took up major roles. Hancock was 20 this past season as an over-age player.

“[McMichael] got to play a lot. Especially in the first half of the season in London. Then they made some trades and had some guys come back and he probably played a little less of a role,” Mahoney said. “I think he would have put up even more points. He didn’t get as much power-play time. I know they expect him to play a big role next year and play even more and that will be really good for him.”

McMichael grew up in Ajax, Ontario in the Toronto area and was a Maple Leafs fan, of course. He said he patterns himself after Vancouver Canucks forward Bo Horvat, who played for the Knights, too, and Calgary Flames forward Sean Monahan. He’s never been to D.C., but he will this week for Capitals development camp. But his real time in Washington is the future. For now, McMichael has more immediate ideas about next season.   

“I want to be the go-to guy in London,” McMichael said. “For me, throwing it into the air, I want to hit plus-35 and 100 points. Those are some goals that I’ve set.” 


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How the Caps turned a sure loss into their first home win in under 90 seconds

How the Caps turned a sure loss into their first home win in under 90 seconds

WASHINGTON -- Another sloppy defensive performance looked like it would doom the Capitals, but a furious three-goal rally in the second period turned what looked like a sure defeat into a stunning 4-3 victory, their first at home this season, over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

Toronto took an early lead off a short-handed goal from Kasperi Kapanen. Jonas Siegenthaler then was slow to react to a streaking Ilya Mikheyev who torched him to put the Leafs up 2-0. Jakub Vrana made it 2-1 late in the first, but Toronto looked like they had this game well in hand.

But the Caps rallied and completely turned things around in a stretch of just 1:18 in the second period. Here's how.

Brilliant skating by Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov passed the puck up to the offensive blue line. A skating Carl Hagelin tapped it to John Carlson who entered the zone, pulled back and handed it off to Kuznetsov who took over.

When Kuznetsov gets the puck there are three Maple Leaf players in front of him. He pumps the legs once and then glides in on net and somehow he is behind all three players and in alone on Michael Hutchinson.

Kuznetsov’s speed virtually never changes during the play. There’s no frantic, choppy acceleration, just a smooth glide that allows him to skate in, wait out Hutchinson and tuck the puck around his outstretched pad all in seemingly one fluid motion.

The forecheck pays off 11 seconds later

T.J. Oshie beat out Morgan Rielly in a footrace for the puck in the offensive zone. He circled in the corner to protect the puck with his body from Rielly. He was able to find Nicklas Backstrom in the high slot and Backstrom snapped the puck in.

In a period of just 11 seconds, the Caps had changed the score from 2-1 Leafs to 3-2 Caps.

The flustered Leafs

Momentum is a real thing. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. That was on display in the second period when the Leafs were on their heels after coughing up two quick goals. Just 18 seconds after Backstrom’s goal, Nicholas SHore was called for interference on Oshie.

Do you know how you get two goals and draw an interference penalty in less than a minute? By keeping possession of the puck. Toronto could not get its hands on it at all until Cocy Ceci did on the penalty kill...and promptly threw the puck into the crowd on an attempted clearance from the defensive zone resulting in a delay of game penalty.

A 5-on-3

Ceci’s penalty came just nine seconds after Shore was booked resulting in a two-man advantage for 1:51. The Caps were too hot at that point to not convert. The power play moved the puck very effectively and, critically, managed to retain possession after every shot. The Leafs just could not get there in time to clear it allowing the Caps to take their time, set things up and attack.

The power play shifted with Carlson making his way over to the Ovechkin spot. Ovechkin was fed the puck at the point, faked the slap shot and instead tapped the pass over to Carlson. Carlson did his best Ovechkin impression and fired the one-timer past Hutchinson. That goal made the score 4-2 and capped off an incredible 1:18 stretch in which the Caps turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead, thus ultimately snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Toronto would score a late goal in a comeback attempt but ultimately fell short.


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Capitals score three goals in 90 seconds to take the lead over Toronto

Capitals score three goals in 90 seconds to take the lead over Toronto

The beginning of Wednesday's clash with the Maple Leafs was not pretty for the Capitals.

A pair of goals by Toronto gave them an early lead midway through the first period. But a snipe by Jakub Vrana towards the end of the first frame cut the deficit in half entering the first intermission.

But during the second period, all of a sudden, a switch flipped for the Capitals attack. Washington found the back of the net three times in under 90 seconds, turning a one-goal deficit into a two-goal lead.

The first came from Evgeny Kuznetsov, who finished with a beautiful move to sneak the puck past Maple Leafs' goalie Michael Hutchinson's glove.

Just 11 seconds later, Nicklas Backstrom found the back of the net on a beautiful wrister from T.J. Oshie to put the Capitals ahead.

To complete the trifecta, John Carlson's one-timer from Alex Ovechkin went right in between Hutchinson's legs, giving the Capitals a 4-2 lead. 

At the end of the second period, the Capitals hold the same 4-2 lead. Just 20 minutes separate the Capitals from their fourth victory of the season.