Connor McMichael has had an unbelievable start to the 2019-20 Ontario Hockey League season scoring 59 points in 27 games and sits second in league goals with 25 with the London Knights and now looks to parlay that into an opportunity to represent his country at the World Junior Championship this Christmas/New Years.
McMichael and the rest of the Canadian junior hopefuls from around North America have converged in Oakville, Ontario this week at the selection camp determining the team ex-Capitals coach Dale Hunter takes with him to the Czech Republic later this month.
Hunter, who coaches McMichael in London, has another Knight in camp in Liam Foudy and while he may have more experience with the two, he says it is an open competition and expects his two jr club players to fight for a spot and earn the selection. “He earned his spot to be here not just because I was coaching him and now he’ll have to earn a spot to keep going”.
On playing for Hunter, McMichael says:” He preaches playing the right way, how to be a pro and obviously his helped so many guys go to the NHL, and not only play in the NHL but be good players.”
With the 25 goals and 59 points so far in the OHL, it’s easy to see that he has earned his way to the camp and now expects to earn his way onto the team. For Caps fans following McMichael’s career so far, it is not a surprise to hear the driven 18-year-old suggest he wants to earn it as well.
Speaking after practice on Tuesday he says: “Its been really cool just coming together with the top 31 players in Canada, you get to see all their skill and kind of get to know guys off the ice even more and this was our third practice so it was cool getting together with the guys and showcase our skills were getting into game action tomorrow I’m really excited.”
Asked if his experience attending the Washington Capitals training camp this year is helpful he commented, “Going to camp was really cool to learn from the guys that have been in the NHL for a while and just see the way they carry themselves every day. So just come in here I want to act like a pro on and off the ice and I feel like it gives me an advantage just from that experience and all the confidence I gained.”
Continuing about his time in DC, “It was really cool to watch Backstrom and Kuznetsov play just cause I am a centre and they are centres it was cool to see how they just play the game on and off the ice. John Carlson was in London so we chatted about that and it was pretty cool to learn from those guys and obviously Ovechkin was great to talk with. Just the experience in how they carry themselves was awesome to be a part of.”
Many Caps fans will recall John Carlson (who also played his Jr in London) scoring the gold medal-winning goal against Canada in 2010. I asked McMichael what it would be like if the roles were reversed and he was able to help Canada over the US. “That would be pretty cool just obviously the rivalry that Canada and the US have and obviously we play them boxing day so it will be really cool. “Some guys from London also were invited to the USA camp so it would be really cool playing those guys and it’d be a dream come true for sure.”
McMichael knows that he may have to adapt to situational play while in a best-on-best tournament but has been prepared for it saying: “I know Dale plays in me in a lot of different situations in London. I’m trusted when we have the lead or down a goal and also penalty kill and powerplay. Obviously, you want to be a top-6 forward to drive the offence but for me, I can play anywhere and I’d just be really excited to make the team.”
I asked Hunter about his forwards potential role outside of scoring goals and he responded: “He has to score for us because of his offensive ability but, he kills penalties, he’s a smart player and he knows how to take the lanes away.” Situationally, Hunter knows he can count on McMichael in London,“ When your down and you’ve got the goalie pulled or something or the other team does then you got to be a smart player to defensively figure out where to be and he’s one of these players.”
Team Canada will play in their first exhibition game tonight vs the University All-Stars at 5 PM. Will provide more coverage as the week goes along.