We don’t know when Capitals 2019 first round pick Connor McMichael will make his NHL debut.
It could be as soon as this next season, whenever that is. Or we could have to wait another year or season. There is always a fine line between giving a young person a shot at the highest level and rushing a prospect. You definitely don’t want to do the latter.
McMichael is a very exciting prospect for the Washington Capitals. It’s not that often you find prospects this exciting and with this much potential when the kid gets picked at number twenty-five. It’s obviously not impossible and stars currently in the National Hockey League have been picked much later than that.
Still, when you pick at number twenty-five you don’t often get a prospect with first line potential. That is what is being said about McMichael.
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With that great potential and great promise however, some fans and people can get a little too excited. Fans see the potential and can’t wait to see him in the NHL putting up big numbers and almost banking on a prospect doing that sooner rather than later. That is usually never the case.
That’s not to say McMichael won’t do that. Maybe he is the exception and he can come into the NHL and tear things up. But he would be just that, the exception. You can’t rely on that or think that will happen. Let’s set our expectations low for his first year.
What does low mean? Well, let’s just look at some skilled forwards the Capitals have taken in the draft in recent years. We’re going to look at three guys since 2010. Since 2010 it really only has been 3 skilled forwards who have been picked by the Capitals in the first round who are solid or great NHLers. Or at least it’s three that debuted with the Capitals. One skilled guy went to Nashville. Still a sore spot for Capitals fans for some reason.
The first we’ll look at is a man no longer on the Capitals, Andre Burakovsky. Burakovsky scored 41 goals and 87 points in 51 games in his last year of junior hockey. In his first year of pro hockey he played 53 games for the Capitals, he scored 9 goals and 22 points. He also played 13 games in the AHL in Hershey where he scored 3 goals and 7 points. In his first full season in the NHL he played 79 games and scored 17 goals and 38 points.
That first full season was his best in D.C. He never scored more than 12 goals in a season as a Capital after that season. In his first season in Colorado, he set career highs scoring 20 goals ad 45 points in 58 games played. He can still get better.
Burakovsky was picked at number 23 of the first round. Very close to where McMichael was picked.
Now lets move on to a guy who is still rocking the red, Jakub Vrana. Vrana was picked a lot higher than McMichael all the way up at 13. Even being picked that high, however, he still did not come blazing into the league.
In his first full season in the NHL, he scored 13 goals and 27 points. He played in 21 games before his first full NHL season and he scored 3 goals and 6 points in those 21 games.
Since those early days Vrana has gone on to score 24 goals in 2018-19 and 25 goals this past season, showing his ability to possibly be a thirty goal scorer someday and be a big part of this Capitals franchise going forward. But he didn’t show that right away.
Finally, we’ll look at the most talented of all the three guys we will talk about today, Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov was picked at number 26 in the first round in 2010. Just one pick below McMichael at 25, just nearly ten years separated.
I honestly think, if Kuznetsov brought his best, night in and night out, he would be considered a top ten player in the NHL. In my eyes, he’s that talented. He’s always had that talent, but even saying that he also did not have instant success.
Kuznetsov’s first full season in the NHL looked like this, 80 games played, 11 goals scored with 37 points. The year before that, he played in 17 games with Washington where he scored 3 goals and 9 points.
We know how good Kuznetsov is or can be. His best year was 2017-18 where he scored 27 goals and put up 83 points in 79 games. He also added 12 goals and 32 points in 24 games in the playoffs that year helping the Caps to the Stanley Cup. He easily could have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. That award ended up with Alex Ovechkin.
Even a guy as talented as Kuznetsov, it did not come that quickly for him. That’s the point we’re trying to make for McMichael.
It’s so easy for us to watch highlights and look at stats of McMichael in junior hockey and get really, really excited for his future. Being excited isn’t the problem. The problem is expecting anything beyond somewhere around 40 points and maybe 15 goals in a rookie year.
McMichael may end up being a tremendous NHL player. But lets just take it slow. As we’ve seen with other highly skilled forwards the Capitals have drafted in the first round, it may take around one hundred NHL games for him to get comfortable.