Believe it or not, summer is winding down and it is time to think about the 2021-22 hockey season. Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan will discuss the biggest questions surrounding the Caps heading into the new season.
Today's topic: Will Connor McMichael factor into the team’s plans?
Andrew: Connor McMichael appears ready to make the jump to the NHL game. The only question is: How?
Behind four solidified NHL centers already on the roster, it's a tough decision to try and get him in the lineup if there aren't major injuries for the team. They could decide to yo-yo him back and forth between the Bears and the NHL for certain games, but right now, he appears to be the No. 5 center in the organization.
I think the plan for McMichael will be to wait and see how he plays in Hershey to start the season. If he blows the door off other AHLers, then it's clear the Capitals will need to make space for him. In doing that, they may have to move Lars Eller or Evgeny Kuznetsov off the roster. Or, they could just move one of their centers to wing and have oodles of center depth on the NHL team.
But don't expect him to be the knight in shining armor right away. I think for this year, he'll see at least 20 games in the NHL, but beyond that, it's tough to say.
Whether he's even more talented than advertised, or he needs more time, the Capitals have proven they're willing to take it slow with him.
JJ: Barring a long-term injury, I really don't think we see much of McMichael in the NHL this season. With Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Nic Dowd, the team is set down the middle. McMichael is not going to play over any of them. He's not ready for a top-six role in the NHL and Eller and Dowd play specific roles on their lines that are not suited to McMichael's skillset.
Does it make more sense for McMichael to play a top-line role in Hershey or sit in the press box in the NHL?
I don't even think McMichael is going to be the first call-up if the Caps need a center for a game or two. General manager Brian MacLellan named Garrett Pilon, another center prospect, as a player he wants to see get playing time next season. While there is no question that the ceiling is higher for McMichael than Pilon, for a short-term call-up it makes more sense to give Pilon a chance and keep McMichael getting top-line minutes in Hershey.
Unless McMichael plays so well in training camp that they have to play him or there is a long-term injury that requires a long-term call-up, I don't think we will see much of McMichael at all in the NHL next season. The focus will be on getting him ready for a bigger role going forward.