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2019 NHL Draft prospect profile: Connor McMichael put up big numbers in a limited role

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On a powerhouse team, McMichael took advantage of his position to be one of its best scorers.

Luke Durda/OHL Images

Some prospects have special circumstances to consider in their draft season. The London Knights this year were — again — a powerhouse in the OHL. They finished second in the overall standings, behind the equally stacked Ottawa 67’s, with only 15 regulation losses in a 68-game calendar.

For Connor McMichael, this meant that, even if he was himself talented, he was often playing second fiddle to his more experienced teammates, who had three to four seasons of Junior hockey under their belt. McMichael spent almost the entire season on the third line of the Knights, a position in which he obviously got fewer minutes than some of the other forwards.

Birthplace: Ajax, Ontario, Canada
Shoots: Left
Position: Centre
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 174 lbs.
Team: London Knights

Amazingly, with 72 points in 67 games, he still had the second-highest production on the team after Kevin Hancock. If we exclude Hancock’s time with the Owen Sound Attack, McMichael wins the team scoring title.

But, once again, because of his environment, some of that production should be put into perspective. The London Knights scored 299 goals in the regular season, third-most in the entire league, so there were plenty of points to spread around their formation, and McMichael was also getting his share of power-play time, where he earned 20 of his points.

EliteProspects

Still, what that says is that McMicheal made the most of his chances and supporting cast, which is a good sign for a prospect. Projecting him in the future, it’s very likely that once teammates like Liam Foudy, Alex Formenton and Hancock leave for the professional ranks, the young centreman of the Knights gets even more chances to shine, continues to put up strong numbers, and may even improve on them.

There are no standout traits in McMichael’s game, but he has all the tools to be an effective hockey players at all levels. He skates well, displaying great form with a strong knee bend and a back inclined at the right angle to maximize power. He is able to pick up speed and fly past defenders off the rush on the attack.

His game doesn’t rely on speed, and he doesn’t have as much of it as his teammate, Foudy, but it definitely helps him generate offence. Due to his good form, it’s likely that, as he gets stronger, he will only pack on more speed, especially if he starts adding crossovers through his forward strides to burst away from opponents and expend less energy doing so.

Connor McMichael wears #11 for the London Knights

He has soft hands. He is not a dangler, but still handles the puck precisely and can thread the needle to reach teammates in scoring areas. The forward also deflects and tips shots proficiently. He recorded a high volume of shots this season (3.30 per game), but a good portion of those were simply mid-air pucks he hit with his stick or passes he redirected behind the goalie. For that ability, McMichael was often used in front or around of the blue paint on the power play. There, he also showed a knack for finding rebounds to bang in with hard one-timers off the pads of netminders.

McMichael was both a scoring and passing threat for the London Knights this season, splitting his production evenly in assists and goals. But looking at his advanced stats, he dominates in two categories over all others: expected goals and high-danger shots per 60 minutes. That’s a testament to his aforementioned ability to find scoring chances right in the middle of the defensive box.

From Mitch Brown’s CHL tracking project

What also shows in advanced stats is McMichael’s two-way play. His skating helped him prevent odd-man rushes after turnovers in the offensive zone, and while he wasn’t the strongest player one-on-one away from the puck, the centreman displayed overall sound positioning, which is the more important aspect of the defensive game. The physical element should come with time (McMichael stands at 5’11”, but only 174 pounds) and experience will also help him jump on even more occasions to break opposing plays.

An interesting sequences from the prospect that illustrates his playstyle quite well follows below. McMichael supports his defence battling on the low boards in the defensive zone. He successfully pokes the puck away from an attacker emerging from the scrum, and retrieves possession a couple of seconds later.

He rushes up the ice, passes to a teammate on the wall upon entering the offensive zone, and continues his course between the two opposing defenders to push them back and give space to the attack. Then he stops at the net, far-post, to either be a passing option or jump on a rebound.

The puck ends up in the corner, so McMichael descends below the goal line to be an option on the cycle, and re-emerges around the blue paint at just the right time to masterfully deflect a shot above the goalie’s shoulder.

Rankings (not all rankings are final)

Eliteprospects: #25
Future Considerations: #21
Hockey Prospect: #29
McKeen’s Hockey: #23
McKenzie/TSN: #26
NHL Central Scouting: #24 (NA skaters)

In June, McMichael is projected to be, and should be, drafted somewhere in the latter half of the first round. Like Barrett Hayton last year, who was drafted by the Arizona Coyotes with the fifth overall pick, McMichael comes from a solid OHL organization, could be a solid two-way player at the next level, and managed to produce even playing down the lineup. McMichael doesn’t have Hayton’s incredible hands, but the similarities are there, and centreman are always at a premium in the draft. It’s possible to see a team reaching for him somewhere in the middle of the first round.