LONDON, Ont.— Connor McMichael was bright-eyed and smiling ear to ear when he was mentioned in the same sentence as former London Knights players, Mitch Marner and Patrick Kane.
That is because the Knights forward currently has more points than the respective NHL stars do. In just 16 games, McMichael has 19 goals, 22 assists for 41 points.
For reference, Marner has 18 points in 18 games played. Kane has 20 points in 17 games.
“Those are pretty big names,” said McMichael after the OHL’s morning practice. “I’m off to a good start and hopefully I can keep it up.”
When one references the city of London, Ontario, it is accompanied by fervent enthusiasm for the London Knights. As a result of the leadership of brothers Mark and Dale Hunter, the Knights have become the model OHL franchise. Winning four OHL championships and two Memorial Cups in the 2010’s decade alone.
With Game 2 of the Canada/Russia series being played at London’s Budweiser Gardens on Monday night, it provides a familiar amphitheater for the Knights players and coaches on Team OHL to shine.
“It is always an honour to host this game,” said Team OHL Head Coach Dale Hunter. “You got the best of both countries out here competing. Our fans are really excited about the game and so am I.”
For McMichael, the Canada/Russia series is a stepping stone to his ultimate goal of making Canada’s World Junior hockey team. The tournament has symbolized a gathering place for the 18-year-old and his family every Boxing Day. Like so many Canadian hockey players, McMichael grew up watching and idolizing the youngsters that would become the sport’s top-tiered stars.
Slow Start for McMichael in OHL
Growing up in Scarborough, McMichael began his hockey career with the Ajax/Pickering Raiders. In his OHL draft year, the forward recorded 35 goals and 27 assists for the Raiders. This propelled McMichael to being drafted in the first round of the OHL Priority Selection to the Hamilton Bulldogs.
But the adjustment to the Junior A level needed time getting used to. The natural offensive skills that gifted McMichael in Triple AAA took longer to harness at the OHL level. After registering just 10 points in 32 games for his rookie season, the Bulldogs traded McMichael to the London Knights for current St. Louis Blues player Robert Thomas and five draft picks.
Being a part of the demanding, winning culture in London was well suited for McMichael’s game. His offensive production soared in 2018-19, registering 36 goals, 36 assists in 67 games played.
McMichael’s innate ability to anticipate often puts him in scoring situations. His speed allows him to break up plays in the neutral zone while giving him the edges and balance to be a force in the offensive end. The high hockey IQ at such a young age was the impetus for McMichael to be selected in the first round of the NHL Draft by the Washington Capitals. An organization that prides itself on molding goal scorers.
McMichael Eyeing World Junior Berth
Being sent back to the London Knights has propelled McMichael to being one of junior hockey’s top scorers. His lightning-quick shot was put on full display in Game 1 of the Canada/Russia series, scoring a goal en route to the OHL’s 4-1 victory over the Russians. Despite being knowledgeable of the Hunter brothers coaching style, McMichael is not afraid to showcase different facets of his game.
“There are a lot of skilled players, who have the same roles on our respective junior teams,” said McMichael. “To make the junior team, you can’t just be a top-six scoring forward. For me, I have to accept different roles such as focusing on defense.”
McMichael joins Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Liam Foudy and San Jose Sharks defensive youngster Ryan Merkley as the London Knights players represented in the Canada/Russia series. With World Junior training camp just around the corner, this game provides a revealing test to see who has what it takes on the international level.
Given the identity of success surrounding the London Knights, it won’t be surprising to see McMichael and others being selected to sport the red and white Canadian jerseys this December.
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