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NHL Draft

McMichael's hockey IQ, maturity makes him top prospect for 2019 Draft

Forward second in scoring for London, No. 24 in NHL Central Scouting final ranking

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Every Thursday, will look ahead to the 2019 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

Connor McMichael never felt the need to do anything extraordinary when London of the Ontario Hockey League acquired him in a trade with Hamilton for forward Robert Thomas and draft picks on Jan. 8, 2018.

McMichael, a center, was in his first OHL season at the time but was a player considered smart and defensively responsible. Thomas, now starring for the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, was seen as a final piece for Hamilton, which won the OHL championship and reached the semifinal of the Memorial Cup.

"It was tough leaving the guys in Hamilton and then watching them win the OHL championship, but I was happy for the team," McMichael said. "Obviously being traded for a guy like Robert Thomas and going to a great organization like London was pretty cool.

"I tried not to think about it too much and just wanted to come in and try to help the team win as many games as possible."

McMichael did that this season, finishing second with London with 72 points (36 goals, 36 assists) and 10 power-play goals in 67 regular-season games. He also had five points (two goals, three assists) in 11 playoff games to help London reach the second round.

"He doesn't play on the top line, but you could put him anywhere in the lineup and he's going to simulate his game to whoever he's playing with," Karl Stewart of NHL Central Scouting said. "You could put him with a Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) or in a fourth-line role and this kid will play the same game. He can think with the best of them and will grind it out with most sandpaper guys."

Stewart said he wouldn't be surprised to see McMichael begin his professional career on the wing.

"Typically these kids need a little maturing and experience in picking up their head to survey the ice better, play a more composed game," he said. "That's when their game takes off. He's got the ability to take his game to the next level, but I see him more as a wing in the NHL."

The 5-foot-11, 174-pound left-handed shot is No. 24 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2019 draft, at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on June 21-22.

"I think I've matured as a player, working with the London assistant coaches in the gym after practice," McMichael said. "I think it's neat being ranked that high but it's not where I want to be. I want to still improve. Getting drafted in the first round is one of my goals, since I was a kid, for sure, but I know there's a lot more than just that."

Before selected by Hamilton in the first round (No. 11) of the 2017 OHL draft, McMichael was learning his craft under the tutelage of minor-midget coach Danny Minnings. Minnings has coached the Ajax/Pickering Raiders of the Eastern AAA Minor Midget Hockey League for more than 10 years and said McMichael is the finest player he's had during his tenure.

"I've been doing this for a long time and Connor is about as smart as they come," Minnings said. "His hockey IQ is off the charts. As I've said to anyone who has ever asked, Connor could coach, referee and play a game all at the same time.

"On top of that he's as humble as they come. I just don't think he had any idea just how good he was, but I think he's getting the idea now."

McMichael, who was born in Ajax, Ontario, was 13 years old when he first approached Minnings in 2014-15, and he never missed a game in his three seasons with the team.

"All his parents wanted was for him to play at home in a positive atmosphere, so I was lucky enough to have him come aboard," Minnings said. "He never had a negative thing to say about anybody and never asked to play with anybody. Connor was smart enough to see things out on the ice better than most, so we encouraged him to be more vocal with his teammates. His skills naturally improved."

McMichael had 62 points (35 goals, 27 assists) while serving as captain for Ajax/Pickering in 2016-17. Though McMichael wasn't an overly vocal captain, Minnings said McMichael was well-respected for his work ethic on the ice.

"He talked a lot more with his peers than with the coaching staff," Minnings said.

Stewart said it's not unusual to see leaders by example serving as effective captains.

"Typically with guys who aren't vocal leaders but end up being captains, they do have that aura of confidence and they do their talking on the ice," Stewart said. "That's what [McMichael] does. You know what you're going to get from him every shift. You can put him on the ice the last minute of the game to protect or get the lead. He's an all-around two-way player with a skill set that's still developing."


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