The inaugural NextGen Hockey draft prospect profile belongs to Connor McMichael of the London Knights, a speedy centre with first round aspirations. McMichael led the London Knights in scoring this season, with his point totals making a substantial jump from last season. Today we’ll tackle what to make of that large increase, and where in the NHL draft McMichael would represent good value.
- Age/Birthdate: 18 / January 15, 2001
- Birthplace: Ajax, Ontario
- Frame: 5-foot-11 / 174 lbs
- Position: Centre
- Handedness: Left
- Draft Year Team: London Knights (OHL)
2018-19 Stat Rundown
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McMichael is a well-rounded player who rates as average to above average in just about every category worth considering. His calling card is his skating ability, which impresses both in terms of top speed and side-to-side mobility. When he has the occasion to use that burst potential, he can give the appearance that he’s moving a double-speed.
McMichael possesses a decent set of hands that allows him to handle the puck at speed, though not typically in a dynamic fashion. Plays like the one below, where he moves around an aggressive defender on the rush, are a bit of an outlier, and you can see that his handling of the puck at speed suffers a little bit when pressure is applied. McMichael makes up for it with a burst of speed and follows that up with a heads-up pass to demonstrate his vision and awareness of the developing play.
McMichael’s puck control is cleaner in an offensive formation, which is all well and good because his team didn’t seem to rely on him to transition the puck up ice a great deal (given the amount that McMichael played with defencemen Evan Bouchard and Adam Boqvist when they were in the lineup, he was frequently in situations where the rearguards were performing the zone entries).
In the event that McMichael was left to carry the puck through the neutral zone, he had some success as long as long as he didn’t have to be too creative. He could chip the puck lightly ahead using the boards and blow by defenders, or just beat defencemen wide if he got the jump on them.
In instances where he dumped the puck in for a regular forecheck, he had limited success in recovering pucks. In each of my viewings of McMichael, he didn’t seem to be particularly involved in breaking up plays or forcing turnovers, either at 5-on-5 or on special teams. He was able to jump on loose pucks that were within a distinct range, but otherwise appeared to rely on others to attain possession. After that, he became a very useful part of the offence, but you’d like to see him play a bigger role in establishing possession. McMichael isn’t a very physical player, but that shouldn’t preclude him from being more aggressive in his pursuit of the puck.
McMichael is talented as both a playmaker and a shooter (which would be a simple assumption to make anyway given that his goal and assists totals have been even in each of his OHL seasons). In both regard he is aided by quick reaction times, deft handling of passes (including when he has to take one off his skate), and the knowledge of what he’s doing next before the puck arrives on his stick. A quick play to extend possession is never out of the question, but McMichael will look to shoot whenever the opportunity is there. A quick release can help him beat the goalie in close, as below, but his shot has the power and accuracy to beat goalies from medium distance as well.
McMichael spent plenty of time on the Knights’ power play this season, both on the first and second units. In each of the games that I saw him, he was playing down low on the end or by the net (where he scored from in the video above). This game him plenty of opportunity to finish plays, but I would be interested to see him in a half-wall position as well to open up opportunities to distribute to others.
Connor McMichael was drafted by the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs with the 11th overall pick in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection. Partway through his rookie OHL campaign in 2017-18 (his draft-minus-one season), McMichael was one of six assets (and the sole player) dealt to London in a blockbuster deal in return for OHL star (and current St. Louis Blue) Robert Thomas.
McMichael’s draft-minus-one season, in which he collected eight goals and 16 points in 60 games, was a bit lackluster for both an 11th overall OHL pick and for a potential first round NHL pick. This season, opportunity came knocking, and McMichael answered it with an explosion of offence, finishing with 36 goals and 72 points in 67 games.
McMichael was one of just five first-time-eligible prospects to finish above a point-per-game in the OHL this season. The other four (Arthur Kaliyev, Philip Tomasino, Ryan Suzuki and Nicholas Robertson) are probable first rounds picks at the upcoming draft. Over the past ten drafts, it is the exception, rather than the rule, for first-time-eligible point-per-game-plus OHL players to be taken past the second round.
That brings us to our first opportunity to dig into some prospect models. McMichael’s statistical cohort is populated with high end NHL talent, including Mark Scheifele, Gabriel Landeskog, Vincent Trocheck and Brandon Saad. Weighting his 222 matches for similarity, McMichael’s production profile gives him about a one-third chance at reaching the baseline of top 12 forward, and an approximately 12% likelihood of being a top six forward.
These odds make McMichael a decent bet in the last first round, despite 85 of his matches failing to play a single game (remember that prospects generally pan out less frequently than you think). But of course, we can dig deeper.
McMichael was named the Knights’ most improved player this season at their end-of-year awards ceremony, and while you can’t knock a player for improving, it does raise some questions when there is a jump in production like McMichael had between 2017-18 and 2018-19. Among those might be: how much did the increase in ice time and opportunity account for the improvement, and how much did luck and percentages factor in?
The answer to the former question, and this should come as no surprise, is a lot. Junior hockey demonstrates the highest expected year-to-year increase in production not only because players grow substantially both physically and mentally during the age-16 to age-20 period that they play there, but also because older players are granted far more opportunity.
For McMichael, that came in the form of increased ice time, better linemates, and first unit power play time. He went from an estimated nine minutes per game at 5-on-5 in 2017-18 to 15 minutes per game at 5-on-5 in 2018-19. His most common London linemates in 2017-18 were Josh Nelson (0.23 points per game) and Sergey Popov (0.39), compared to Nathan Dunkley (0.79) and Matvei Guskov (0.51) in 2018-19.
McMichael’s numbers were augmented by power play production, but he certainly didn’t rely on it. His 24 even strength goals had him tied for 8th in that category among all first-time draft eligibles (just one behind Arthur Kaliyev and Dylan Cozens), and his 45 even strength primary points trailed only Alex Newhook, who played much easier competition in the BCHL.
Luck is trickier to nail down in junior hockey than it is in the NHL, where advanced statistics are much more robust. In the NHL, we typically like to look like things like on-ice shooting percentage, or the difference between expected shooting percentage and raw shooting percentage to assess the role of luck in a player’s numbers, but here we mostly just have personal shooting percentage to work with (though we can get a little creative).
McMichael’s shooting percentage this season was 16.3% – bordering on elite for the NHL, but in the OHL, where average shooting percentages are higher, especially as age increases, it’s within reason. More important than his shooting percentage is his shot rate (a much more sustainable value than shooting percentage). McMichael averaged over 3.0 shots per game.
If there is a concern to be had, it’s that McMichael’s production withered in the OHL playoffs. McMichael collected just five points in 11 playoffs, as London fell in the second round to the Guelph Storm. Guelph beat London in seven games after the Knights swept Windsor in the opening round. McMichael did manage to collect two points in the final game, certainly showing up when it counted, but over the course of the series didn’t provide the secondary scoring that the Knights needed.
Still, you have to take notice of the fact that McMichael led the Knights in scoring despite playing the majority of his 5-on-5 time with players who were 4th and 13th in team scoring – and yet wasn’t overly reliant on power play time. The playoff numbers, while concerning, suffer from a small sample size and a change in strategy that saw him further down the lineup.
I see McMichael as a middle six centre in the NHL, with the ability to contribute on special teams. He’s not a game-breaker by any means, at least not at this stage in his career, but his skill set suggests a reasonably high floor and his statistical profile indicates that he’s a good bet to continue on his present trajectory.
Additional Charts and Data
Rolling Season Data
Raw data for the charts used in this article came from eliteprospects.com and ontariohockeyleague.com. Other data sources include prospect-stats.com.
Gifs in this article came from shift-by-shift videos cut by prospectshifts.com and YouTube channel Gobias, as well as from OHL Live broadcasts.
Dad, husband, hockey fan. Founder/analyst/editor/admin of NextGenHockey.ca. Contributor at CanucksArmy and the Nation Network. Blending video analysis and statistical modeling. pGPS, SEAL, etc. The Minnesota Twins are finally good again!