Connor McMichael

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Capitals top prospect Connor McMichael an option to play in postseason, according to Todd Reirden

Capitals top prospect Connor McMichael an option to play in postseason, according to Todd Reirden

When it comes to the playoffs, rarely do black aces generate much excitement. Black aces are players a team recalls from the minors to serve as depth/practice players during the postseason. Most of them are brought in with the expectation that they won't play and, even if they do, it is only out of necessity. And then there are players like Connor McMichael.

The Caps' first-round draft pick from 2019, McMichael is coming off a brilliant season in the OHL with the London Knights where be recorded 102 points in 52 games. Teams will often bring up players they see as future NHLers to serve as black aces even if they are not going to play, just for the experience of being with the team during the postseason. After a productive training camp in September, it is no surprise to see McMichael back with the Caps as the team prepares for the playoffs.

"It was really cool, just coming in and seeing all the pros like [Alex Ovechkin], [Nicklas Backstrom] and those guys, guys I grew up watching," McMichael said. "It was really cool to be around them and to see how they approach the game every single day. So, I took a lot of that back to London. Just here, black acing it, it's a cool experience watching them play in the playoffs and how they treat their bodies every day to be ready to go. So, I'm really excited."

In a typical season, there were be essentially no chance the 19-year-old, 181-pound McMichael would get into the lineup. But this is not a typical season.

RELATED: CONNOR MCMICHAEL A BLACK ACE CANDIDATE FOR PLAYOFFS

The first three games for Washington will be round robin games and, though they matter in terms of seeding, they don't matter in terms of being do-or-die. The Caps could lose all three games and still be in the playoffs. Because of that, it leaves head coach Todd Reirden the opportunity to experiment with his lineup if he chooses. Could that leave an opening for McMichael to possibly crack the lineup for a game?

It's not a subject the coaches have breached with the young forward just yet.

"No, they haven't talked to me about that too much," McMichael said. "The coaches were just telling everyone to be ready. You never know what can happen in the playoffs. You need depth in the playoffs, especially. I'm just ready to go whenever I get my name called."

When asked if McMichael could possibly play in the postseason, however, Reirden made clear that he wouldn't be with the team if he wasn't seen as at least an option.

I AM THE PROSPECT: CONNOR MCMICHAEL'S PATH TO THE NHL

"I think that's something that we're going to continue to evaluate," Reirden said. "If we didn't think that he was an option to be able to be played then that would be a player we wouldn't probably bring to the hub city with us. He's going to be there and he's going to be in Toronto, then to me, he's an option because so many things can change so quickly with what's going to happen inside this bubble."

Lars Eller has already expressed his intention to leave the bubble for the birth of his second child which will force the team to replace him in the lineup. Also, the longer the Caps go in the playoffs, the more likely it is that there will be an injury somewhere forcing in someone else. If that opportunity comes along for McMichael, he said he will be ready.

"I'm just really happy to be here," McMichael said. "I'm going to do everything to prove to the coaches that I can play in the lineup and, if not, I'll always be ready in case someone gets hurt or other things happen. So, I'm just really excited to be here and it should be really fun."

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Capitals could bring up Connor McMichael to be a 'black ace' for the playoffs

Capitals could bring up Connor McMichael to be a 'black ace' for the playoffs

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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6 Capitals prospects to watch in the Prospects Showcase

6 Capitals prospects to watch in the Prospects Showcase

Hockey is back! Well, sort of. While the start of the NHL season is still weeks away, actual games will be played starting this weekend in Antioch, Tenn. as the Prospects Showcase begins. The Capitals are once again participating in the tournament that will also feature prospects from the Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Washington’s first game is on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Whatever happens in a prospect tournament should be taken with a grain of salt. Whether players struggle or dominate, it has little bearing on their NHL hopes. Having said that, there are a number of prospects who Washington will be watching very closely.

Here are six players you need to watch in the Prospects Showcase.

Alexander Alexeyev

There is a lot of excitement surrounding Washington’s first-round pick from 2018, but how close is Alexeyev to being NHL ready? This tournament may give us a sense of that.

Granted, Alexeyev is a first-round talent playing primarily against players who were picked below him in the draft or perhaps are even free agent invites. He should be one of the best players in the tournament because he is one of the best players on the roster, at least on paper. That means the bar will be set very high.

The salary cap crunch in Washington has left the entire blue line in flux. There are spots on the third pairing up for grabs and it would solve a lot of problems if a player on an entry-level deal like Alexeyev were to show he was ready. That is a lot to ask for a player who just wrapped up his junior career, and we should not go into this tournament expecting Alexeyev to simply be the best player on the ice. Though if he wants to make a real push to reach the NHL this season, it would probably have to begin with a strong showing in Antioch.

Also, let’s not forget Alexeyev’s season ended with a brutal knee injury. We have seen him at informal skates, he scrimmaged against other prospects in the NHLPA’s rookie showcase, where he said the knee was “amazing” and he had zero limitations. Now we get to see him in a competitive game situation.

Axel Jonsson-Fjallby

Jonsson-Fjallby has NHL speed and projects as a bottom-six NHL forward. He did himself no favors last season, however, when he left Hershey after just 16 games to return to Sweden. Regardless of the personal circumstances that may have led to his decision, the problem is he has very limited experience playing the North American game. This offseason we saw Caps general manager Brian MacLellan sign Carl Hagelin, Richard Panik and Garnet Hathaway, four players who will play primarily on Washington’s bottom two lines, to four-year contracts. That is pretty damning for how far away he thinks Jonsson-Fjallby is from the NHL.

Being in Tennessee, obviously this tournament will be played on a North American-sized rink. Jonsson-Fjallby is a player to watch just to see how he handles the smaller rink and faster style of play.

Brett Leason

At 20-years old, Leason is supposed to be a lot closer to the NHL than most second-round draft picks are immediately after getting drafted. I have no doubt he will start the season in Hershey and probably stay there for the next year, but who knows after that?

Leason has a big frame and lots of tools, but how far along is he really? Physically, he should be one of the most mature players in the tournament. If Leason excels, that is a good indication he is right where he is supposed to be in terms of development. If not, then it may mean more than a year in Hershey to hone his skills and prepare him for the NHL.

Connor McMichael

McMichael is the first forward taken in the first round by Washington since Jakub Vrana in 2014, but reviews on him were mixed after he was selected. Some thought he was a reach and there were better targets available, while others loved the pick. This tournament will give us our first glimpse of him playing in a Caps jersey, allowing us to see if McMichael really was a first-round talent or if the Caps reached.

Ilya Samsonov

In case you have been living under a rock, Braden Holtby is on the last year of his contract, and it is going to be very hard for the Capitals to bring him back. So the question is not if Samsonov should get NHL playing time this season, it's when?

The decision of whether or not to move on from Holtby and anoint Samsonov as the new starter will not be made based on anything he does in this tournament, but it will give the team a gauge of just how far along Samsonov is in his development. Should the team call him up early in the season? Later? Is he not progressing as hoped? Is he ahead of schedule?

Samsonov looked very raw last year and still in need of more time to develop. With a decision on Holtby’s future coming in the next year, however, Samsonov’s timeline may be speeding up a bit. A solid showing in the tournament would certainly help the team feel better about getting him some NHL games this season.

Joe Snively

Most college free agents do not turn into big-time NHL prospects or players. Ultimately, there is usually a reason why they did not get drafted. Snively, however, may prove to be the exception.

Snively excelled in college, scoring 36 points in each of the past two seasons at Yale. He stepped into Hershey last season for nine games and recorded two goals and five assists. He should be even better this year as he grows more accustomed to the pros.

Still, because we have only seen him in a handful of games in the AHL, it's hard to gauge what his potential may truly be. That makes him very intriguing in this tournament. How does he stack up against other top prospects around the league?

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