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."
Video: All-Access | Connor McMichael
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."
Video: Ross Mahoney | 2019 NHL Draft
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."
Video: Connor McMichael | 2019 NHL Draft
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.
Video: Capitals draft F Connor McMichael No. 25