News Release, Washington Capitals
It’s been a while, but the Caps have added some first-round forward talent to the prospect pipeline for the first time in half a decade. With the 25th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, the Capitals chose center Connor McMichael of the OHL’s London Knights. Longtime Caps captain and former Washington coach Dale Hunter is the bench boss in London, where Caps defenseman John Carlson also played his junior hockey.
“I didn’t really know where I was going to end up,” says McMichael. “But when I heard my name called, a lot of mixed emotions. Just having my parents [here] and saying the last goodbye before I came down here.
“So far, it’s been awesome and I’m really excited. I don’t think the feeling has sunk in too much yet, but I’m really excited.”
McMichael is viewed as a goal scorer whose greatest attribute is his hockey sense. The 18-year-old native of Ajax, Ontario scored 36 goals – tied for 20th in the league – and 72 points in 67 games with the Knights in 2018-19.
“Very, very intelligent player with really, really good hands and a great shot,” assesses Caps assistant general manager Ross Mahoney. “He can score goals. I think he had 36 [goals] and 36 [assists]. But he is a goal scorer. Some kids score goals in junior, but this kid is a goal scorer. He can play center, he can also play the wing, but like I said it’s his vision and his hands. And he is a good skater.”
In his first full OHL season in 2017-18, McMichael split the season between Hamilton and London, totaling eight goals and 16 points in 60 games before breaking out in his first full season with the Knights.
“I think he got to play a lot, especially the first half of the season in London,” says Mahoney in accounting for McMichael’s leap in production last season. “In the second half, they made some trades and had some guys come back, and he probably played a little bit lesser of a role.
“I think he could probably put up even more points. He didn’t get as much power-play time and I know they expect him to play a big role next year and play even more, and that will be really good for him. Like a lot of the younger men who were drafted today, he needs to get a little bit stronger and work on his off-ice to get stronger.”
Then Hockey News ranked McMichael as the 24th best prospect in the 2019 Draft and named New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad as a best-case comparison. Red Line Report also ranked McMichael at No. 24 overall, seeing him as a second-line NHL winger down the road, and offering Washington winger T.J. Oshie as a comparable.
McMichael grew up as a Maple Leafs fan, naturally, but he patterns himself after a pair of pivots who currently toil for Western Canadian NHL clubs.
“I really like [Calgary’s] Sean Monahan and [Vancouver’s] Bo Horvat,” says McMichael. “Those are good two-way centers, really skilled.”
The last time Washington went for a forward in the first round was in 2014, which is the last time they had a pick in the teens. The Caps chose Jakub Vrana with the 13th overall pick that summer. In the years since, they’ve gone for a goaltender (Ilya Samsonov at No. 22 in 2015), and a pair of defensemen (Lucas Johansen at No. 28 in 2016 and Alexander Alexeyev at No. 31 in 2018). Washington did not have a first-round choice in the 2017 NHL Draft.
Beginning in the 2015 Draft and going through the first two picks in 2018, the Caps went for 11 defensemen over a span of 17 total picks. The first of those blueliners reached the NHL last November when Jonas Siegenthaler (second round in 2015, No. 57 overall) made his debut in the league. When Washington chose Kody Clark in the second round (No. 47 overall) of the 2018 Draft, he became the highest drafted Caps forward since Vrana.
Before the Caps chose Clark in the second round of last summer’s draft, they had not taken any player from the OHL since selecting Tom Wilson with the No. 16 overall choice in the 2012 Draft. The five-year gap between first-round forwards Vrana and McMichael is the longest in Washington’s franchise history.
The Washington Capitals selected right wing Brett Leason (56th overall), center Aliaksei Protas (91st overall) and defenseman Martin Has (153rd overall) on the second day of the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. On Friday, the Capitals selected center Connor McMichael with the 25th overall selection in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft.
Leason, 20, was ranked fifth among right wings and 21st overall among North American forwards by NHL Central Scouting. The 6’4″, 210-pound right wing registered 89 points (36g, 53a) in 55 games with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League (WHL) last season. Leason led Prince Albert in points and ranked eighth in the WHL in the 2018-19 season. The Calgary, Alta, native recorded 25 points (10g, 15a) in 22 playoff games, ranking second in the WHL in playoff points, en route to Prince Albert’s Ed Chynoweth Cup as the WHL champions. Leason was named to the WHL (East) First All-Star Team last season. In 190 career WHL games between Prince Albert and the Tri-City Americans, Leason has recorded 140 points (60g, 80a). Leason represented Team Canada in the 2019 World Junior Championship, recording five points (3g, 2a) in five games. Additionally, Leason received the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence this year, presented annually by the NHL to a prospect who best exemplifies commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism.
Protas, 18, was ranked 16th among centers and 30th overall among North American forwards by NHL Central Scouting. Teammates with Leason on Prince Albert, Protas registered 40 points (11g, 29a) in 61 games last season. The 6’5″, 205-pound center ranked seventh among WHL rookies in points, and he led all WHL rookies in playoff points with 22 (12g, 10a) in 23 games. The Vitebsk, Belarus, native represented Belarus at the 2018 Under-18 World Championship, recording four points (1g, 3a) in four games, and also earned a silver medal at the 2019 Division 1 – Group A World Junior Championship, recording five points (2g, 3a) in five games. Protas marks the first player the Capitals have ever selected from Belarus. The Capitals acquired the 91st overall selection by trading their 118th and 129th overall selection to New Jersey.
Has, 18, was ranked 17th among defensemen and 38th overall among European players by NHL Central Scouting. The 6’4″, 192-pound defenseman recorded 16 points (9g, 7a) in 37 games with Tappara in Finland’s Jr. League. During the 2018-19 season, the Prague, Czech Republic, native represented Czech Republic in the 2019 Under-18 World Championship, the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, the 2018 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament in Zuchwil and the Under-20 Four Nations Tournament in Hodonin, recording eight points (3g, 5a) in 16 international games. In order to draft Has, the Capitals traded their 7th round pick (211th overall) and their seventh-round pick in 2020 NHL Draft to San Jose for the 153rd overall pick.