The Tampa Bay Lightning love their offensively minded forwards who string plays together at a high tempo and beat teams with speed and skill. Connor McMichael showed a lot of potential to fill in all those tactical boxes in his year with the London Knights that he could be a very strong fit for the team come June 21st at the NHL Draft.
McMichael is a very gifted athlete in the offensive zone who at times fails to show the same dedication on the other side of the ice, even though he’s shown flashes of a strong two-way game. Offensively, McMichael is one of the best in the draft at creating shots for himself and his teammates in high-danger areas. You can see in his shot chart below that all his chances come right around the slot; it’s just a big blog of blue in the middle of the ice.
Before you go further, the one scouting report that blew my mind in its preparation, content, and presentation was from Will Scouch and his Scouching report. It is utterly excellent and a must-watch before you read a single word from me. (And support his Patreon!)
In terms of counting stats, McMichael had a breakout season this year as the London Knights top-line center. He led the London Knights — who won their division but lost to the eventual OHL champion Guelph Storm in the second round — in scoring and finished first in goals, primary assists and shots, and finished seventh in secondary assists behind his two teammates (Liam Foudy and Nathan Dunkley) and the team’s top-four defensemen (Adam Boqvist, Alec Regula, Evan Bouchard, and Matthew Timms). Not bad for a 17-year-old who turned 18 midway through the season and was the sixth-youngest player to play more than a game on the team.
Looking at some more detailed stats, McMichael also impressed among his age-group in the OHL (all stats via Prospect-Stats.com). Among players 18 or younger, McMichael finished the season first in goals from a high-danger area of the ice and was sixth in shots from that area. In terms of Prospect Stats’ expected goals model, McMichael was second in expected goals per game among his age group to Arthur Kaliyev, who was among those in the fight for the league’s leading scorer all year andmight go in the top-15 of the 2019 draft.
As you can see in the above chart, McMichael produced at a first-line rate in the OHL in every category but secondary assists (which are prone to randomness and noise). McMichael is an extremely talented offensive player and the points he put up this year more than show that.
One thing that stood out to Scouch and to myself in watching him when his team came to Mississauga during the regular season is that McMichael is a very good athlete. He can dump the puck in and beat the defender in front of him to the puck and win that battle more often than not and his ability to move through the neutral zone into the offensive zone is very good. McMichael also scored very well in the Draft Combine testing, matching the on-ice product. Considering his age (as is the case with 99% of prospects in the draft), McMichael still has lots of growing to do, and his lackluster strength should improve.
McMichael’s brain in the offensive zone is up there with the others at the top of his draft class. He sees the ice very well and knows how to use his teammates well, hence why the trio did so well, especially when it came to activating the defensemen. Head coach Dale Hunter has been known to be able to coach this into players dating back to his time with Mitchell Marner, Christian Dvorak, and Matthew Tkachuk.
In the offensive zone, McMichael had a real knack for finding his teammates in places that would allow them to penetrate the defense and get to the middle of the ice. For himself, McMichael found ways to make himself invisible in the offensive zone until he suddenly appeared with the puck on and off his stick in a split second.
It’s a real head-scratcher why his innate ability to be in the right place wasn’t recreated in the defensive end of the ice. There were often times when he would miss assignments and look like he’s either not paying attention or is just willing to let his wingers do the work for him. I tended to see this in the OHL with a lot of the high-skilled players, they appear to feel like the competition is beneath them and will decide to not put in the same work as they would against a tougher competitor. Owen Tippett is the poster child for acts like this in my mind because I saw him do it day in day out for two years.
Bringing it back to Scouching, this is definitely a teachable skill that can be learned quickly and effectively in the AHL. He won’t be allowed to join the league for another full year because of the CHL/NHL agreement, but if/when he does, there’s a good chance we’ll see a lot of development in that area. He has the skills and talent, I think he just needs the motivation.
The comparable here is very tricky because McMichael still seems very raw in terms of where his two-way game will be. He has lots of potential but it’s unsure how much of it he will realize. If he really takes an honest attempt at dedicating himself to the defensive zone, he could be some version of Jonathan Toews. If he ends up with just having that great offensive prowess including his shot, he might end up as an Auston Matthews-lite. I think Lauren in her Top-35 Consolidated Draft Rankings came up with a nice comparable in William Karlsson in Vegas. Lots of offense creation, still a work in progress elsewhere, all the tools to make it work.
All the draft ranking services have McMichael solidly in the late-20’s to early-30’s depending on who you ask, so he’s right in the wheelhouse for the Lightning. After hearing myself talk about McMichael for close to 1400 words, I think I’ve convinced myself that he’s going to be one of those high-risk (relatively speaking for the first round), high-reward picks. He will most-likely end up in the NHL, but right now it’s anyone’s guess which of the four lines he’ll end up on once he gets there.
Derek Neumeier (Defending Big D) - 28th
Lauren Kelly (Raw Charge) - 31st
NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters) - 24th
Other Scouting Reports
“Quietly effective, McMichael surprised this season with his production (63 primary points) and ability to drive offense. He has quick and smooth skating that makes him a great rusher who can adapt to transitions in the neutral zone. McMichael uses his hockey IQ to find the open areas of the ice to become available for chances, and he’s a great finisher. He does need to add more muscle to get stronger along the boards, but his offensive instincts are next level.” - Lauren Kelly
“There are no standout traits in McMichael’s game, but he has all the tools to be an effective hockey players at all levels. He skates well, displaying great form with a strong knee bend and a back inclined at the right angle to maximize power. He is able to pick up speed and fly past defenders off the rush on the attack.
“His game doesn’t rely on speed, and he doesn’t have as much of it as his teammate, Foudy, but it definitely helps him generate offence. Due to his good form, it’s likely that, as he gets stronger, he will only pack on more speed, especially if he starts adding crossovers through his forward strides to burst away from opponents and expend less energy doing so.” - Habs Eyes on the Prize
McMichael had a great season, as a go-to player for London when its lineup was depleted, and he continued to produce and generate shots at a high level when the roster filled out, although he tailed off toward the end. He doesn’t wow you with his tools, but he’s a quality player. McMichael is a very smart all-around hockey player. He sees the ice very well, is creative with the puck and understands the game away from the puck. He’s not the biggest guy but McMichael competes well. - Corey Pronman: The Athletic
The NHL website did an article on McMichael where they got some nice quotes from a scout and his assistant coach, as well as quotes from McMichael himself. I always think it’s important to hear from the horse’s mouth on what kind of person the prospect is. It adds a dimension to the person that video and numbers just can’t provide.
“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.” - NHL dot com