The London Knights have been the gold standard when it comes to consistently producing top-end talent. Seven out of the last ten drafts they’ve had at least one player selected in the first round, which includes seven top ten picks. However, they are in danger of their current four-year run ending with no lock first round pick. Their best hope lies on the shoulders of 2019 draft eligible Connor McMichael.
McMichael came into the London system after being dealt by the eventual OHL champion Hamilton Bull Dogs in the 2017-18 season. McMichael ended up being a pivotal piece in helping the rebuilding Knights return to contender status, potting 36 goals in his first full season with London. He accomplished this feat with a strong work ethic and a nose for the net. He is ultra-reliable and will earn the trust of his coaches fast with his already stout two-way play. The absence of one true elite skill spurs doubt on how high his ceiling is but his complete game and willingness to go to the dirty areas has earned consideration for the late first round.
|Birthday||January 15, 2001|
Skating: 50 – Puck Skills: 50 – Hockey IQ/Sense: 55 – Physicality: 55
McMichael’s breakout season was made possible because of the commitment he puts in at both ends of the rink. As some would say, he plays the game “the right way.” He isn’t looking to cheat for offense by jumping the zone too early like some wingers tend to do, but rather, he is often taking responsibility for his assignments and makes life difficult for defensemen looking to control the blue-line. In the trenches he is usually the one scrapping for the puck, rather than hovering on the outside exchanging pokes and cross-checks.
While I don’t necessarily see McMichael becoming the guy you send over the boards to match-up against the opposition’s best player, it’s certainly easy to appreciate the maturity in his own end.
But good defensive play on its own isn’t good enough to warrant a first round pick. McMichael complements his defensive efficiency as one of the better goal scorers in this draft. But not in the traditional sense like picking the corner from far out. McMichael is an absolute machine in front of the net. Be it deflections, jam-plays, second chance rebounds, or taps in — you name it — McMichael found away near the blue-ice. 22 of his 36 goals were scored from in between the hash-marks and below.
Goal chart via prospect-stats.com
The goal chart above displays the location of all his goals from the 2018-19 season. It puts it into even more perspective of just how much he was able to find the back of the net from in-close. The willingness to go to the front of the net regularly is very appealing, considering how many players are reluctant to do so because of the abuse that goes on in that area. A player with that type of mentality is one you want on your side come playoff time.
McMichael found a great amount of success from this region of the ice because of all the pucks he was putting on net. While his 16.29 shooting percentage seems slightly high, he was giving himself a plethora of chances to score — ranking second among under-19 players in the OHL in shots on goal. Very impressive, especially for a January 2001 birthday.
Now, the knock on his game revolves around his overall skill-level. Hard skill certainly has a place in today’s game, but when you’re looking to invest top-end draft capital, the preference is for dynamic skill. Someone who can break open shifts with high-end speed or dazzling puck skills. McMichael has speed to get up ice as a puck carrier and can handle pace of play — sometimes even capable of burning defenders — but for the most part is nothing special as a transition player. His foot work can get messy at times and creates for struggles leading a rush through the neutral zone. I feel he is hindering his speed based on the tendencies shown when exiting the zone. He was at his best when he followed the play, rather than drove it.
Cycling the puck in the offensive zone leaves you wanting more as well. McMichael’s average puck skills make it difficult to create space. He’s got the grit to win puck battles down-low, but doesn’t dominate below the goal-line, struggling to stand-out as a puck protector. The majority of his impact comes from hovering around the net and going to work. I like his ability to find space for teammates to deliver the puck, then pouncing on the high percentage plays.
Likewise, McMichael can make for a dream winger for any dynamic center. He can play with pace, finish off plays, and will do the dirty work. He’d be a complementary piece, but a good one at that. In today’s NHL where obtaining elite talent doesn’t come easy, this is the kind of player who can bring value. No, he won’t pull you out of your seat with a high-end skill play, but he’s an efficient player who will be a fan favorite because of his timely goals and jubilant celebrations.
The road to the NHL doesn’t have to be overly complicated with McMichael. He’ll need at least one more season in the OHL. Returning to first-class organization in the London Knights certainly isn’t a bad thing. Heading back to juniors won’t just be to shatter his scoring marks, but to improve his skating and gain more experience in a similar structured schedule to the pros. With that would come a chance to play at the highest level in the playoffs.
In terms of when you can expect to see him in a NHL uniform is still to be determined. Obviously, it all depends on how well he improves his mechanics. McMichael’s well-rounded defensive efforts will give him the benefit of the doubt when he nears readiness, however, I would remain patient with his development. He won’t take the league by storm due to the lack of an elite skill, which is why preparing other aspects of his game is more important. Once he arrives,the scoring may not come right away, but long-term it should all come together into a potential twenty goal scorer.