‘He’s just gotta play:’ Capitals loan Connor McMichael to Hershey

‘He’s just gotta play:’ Capitals loan McMichael to Hershey originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Capitals loaned 21-year-old forward Connor McMichael to their AHL affiliate Hershey Bears on Saturday after he appeared in just six games to begin the season.

Drafted 25th overall in 2019, McMichael has spent most of the last two seasons with the Capitals but hasn’t carved out much playing time. He appeared in 68 games for Washington in 2021-22 and averaged just 10:28 of ice time per game. This year, the team activated him for just six of 20 games while his ice time dropped to an average of 8:51.

“I think just from a development standpoint to get down there and play some games, play 20, 22 minutes a night, get in the middle of the ice, take faceoffs, power play [and] get some confidence back,” head coach Peter Laviolette said at practice Sunday.

“I talked to him this morning and he was excited to go play some games. It’s been tough. The games that he’s been in, there’s not been any power play time, no penalty kill time, so you’re talking about nine minutes and just probably not enough to have him keep developing.”

Even when he was playing, McMichael struggled to generate offense. He didn’t register a single point in those six games, playing on the wing rather than his natural position of center. As Laviolette noted, his lack of special teams usage and inconsistent playing time never allowed him to get going in Washington.

“He’s just gotta play,” Laviolette said. “He’s got to get out there and he’s got to have great nights and he’s got to have good nights, tough nights and he’s got to score some goals and be counted on defensively and just get back to having some fun playing the game. When you’re in and out of the lineup and when you’re in the lineup and there’s not that regular shift all the time because of the special teams that goes on in the ice.

“He’s playing down on the third line, you’re not on the power play, you’re not on the penalty kill and you’re not out there after the timeout on the first line grabbing 15 minutes of even-strength time. Those numbers, they just decrease.”

In Hershey, McMichael will have the opportunity to return to center and play on the Bears’ power-play unit. The Capitals will hope to get him going while their roster gets healthier. By sending McMichael down, they opened up a roster spot that could be filled by Injured Reserve players T.J. Oshie (lower body) and Dmitry Orlov (lower body).

Both Oshie and Orlov skated at full speed in practice Sunday and have a chance of returning in time for the Capitals’ next game Wednesday against the Philadelphia Flyers.