Connor McMichael hopes to stay with Hershey over junior team originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Capitals prospect Connor McMichael is making the most of an opportunity.
In a normal year, he would be playing with his junior team, the London Knights, in the OHL and would not be eligible to play in the AHL as his birthdate falls below the cut-off date. For 2021, however, exceptions were made for those OHL players while the season remains in question to allow them to play in the AHL and McMichael is lighting it up with the Hershey Bears.
Through 15 games, McMichael has six goals and four assists. His 10 points are tied for second on the team. Along with his brief stint in Washington, McMichael is enjoying his first taste of professional hockey and, though the OHL continues to work to try to have a season, he is not shy about his desire to stay in the AHL.
"I honestly want to stay here and just play pro hockey," McMichael told NBC Sports Washington. "I think it would be best for my development, but if I do go back to London I'll have to take the things that I learned here back there and try and keep those going, try and take the pro hockey experience back and keep playing the same way."
According to the TSN's Darren Dreger, the OHL will have to wait at least another week to get permission from the government to begin activities again.
Though nothing is finalized yet, it is believed that normal rules will apply for OHL players in the AHL if and when the league does return. For McMichael, that either means going back to London, Ontario or getting recalled by Washington.
"You just want to know where you're going to be the rest of the season, but that's kind of something I've put behind me now," McMichael said. "I mean, when I came here at first I was kind of thinking about it, wondering how long I could be here, but now that I've been getting going I haven't even been thinking about it to be honest, my mind's just focused on being here."
And he is certainly making the most of that time.
McMichael showed last season that his skills have already progressed to a level beyond the competition of the OHL. In 52 games with London, McMichael recorded an incredible 102 points.
An agreement between the NHL and CHL (the organization that represents the major Canadian junior leagues) set an age restriction on junior players preventing them from playing in the AHL. This was done to ensure top players remain in juniors instead of all the top players getting drafted and assigned to the minor leagues such as the AHL and ECHL.
The fact that McMichael is getting to experience the pros a year earlier than he otherwise would is an invaluable experience and that is not lost on McMichael or the organization.
"it's great to get the taste of pro a year early and just be around the organization a lot earlier than usual," McMichael said. "It's been a great experience for me and it's given me a lot of confidence being able to jump in a little earlier."
"It is such a valuable time for him to be able to experience this, to play games, to practice, to use hopefully the next few months to just get a leg up on what pro hockey's all about," Hershey head coach Spencer Carbery said.
Carbery added, "There's nothing really left for them to prove at the junior level. Once they've gotten to the age they're at, they've been drafted, they've dominated major junior, the OHL specifically in his case, for a couple years now. To be honest with you, he's past that now. Now he needs to be challenged and now he needs to start to integrate pro habits into his game. So this is a really, really valuable time for his career."
So far, McMichael has fit right in. He scored his first professional goal in just his second game with the Bears. His first professional hat trick followed soon after. In addition to adjusting to a higher level of play, McMichael is also experiencing the professional lifestyle and, as he said, "how hard you have to compete day-in and day-out and just practice habits and making that translation to the game."
These are all valuable experiences that McMichael does not want to see halted just for an abbreviated OHL season.
"I think the jump from junior to pro is the biggest jump you'll make in your career and it's something you have to get used to pretty quickly," McMichael said. "I think I've been able to adapt well and I'm having a lot of fun."