clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Is Connor McMichael More Impactful at Center?

The young pivot has been a strong play driver this season even with the chaotic deployment. Is he better served at center?

NHL: Washington Capitals at Nashville Predators Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

There probably hasn’t been a Washington Capitals player who has received more inconsistent ice time this season than Connor McMichael. He’s been playing all over the lineup, at different positions, healthy scratched, then thrown back into the thick of it.

A quick and easy way to see this inconsistency is to look at his linemates and see who he’s skated with the most. Of the 572:09 time spent on ice at five on five, McMichael’s most used line is one with Lars Eller and Daniel Sprong. They spent all of 55:56 together, which is just 9.7% of McMichael’s total ice time. Here are his top 10 lines (via Dobber Sports):

Having your most frequent linemates account for just under 10% of your ice time is pretty wild, especially for a rookie trying to get his footing at the NHL level.

How wild? Remember Aleksei Protas, the kid who hasn’t played in the NHL since February 2nd and has a total of 352:18 five-on-five ice time? He spent over 88 minutes with his most frequent linemates - 33 minutes more than McMichael, who has appeared in 23 more games than Protas.

And yet, even in all of that chaos, McMichael has been putting up strong underlying numbers. Here’s a look at his five-on-five adjusted numbers and his relative stats compared to his team through 56 games (572:09 ice time):

  • CF%: 53.31 (+2.94)
  • xGF%: 57.31 (+4.73)
  • SCF%: 55.87 (+6.12)
  • HDCF%: 56.80 (+7.56)
  • Off. Zone Starts: 55.94%

Those are some very good looking numbers, and that also shows on the maps below, which provide a visualization of the offensive and defensive impact of the player - where red in the offensive zone is good and the blue in defensive zone is good:

So what’s my point? After watching McMichael play a great game at center against the New York Islanders on Tuesday, I had a thought: McMichael seems to be a better center than winger.

It’s hard to get exact numbers on this without going through all 56 games he’s played and pluck out all the games he’s played center specifically; instead, we’ll look at the numbers based on WOWY (With Or Without You) to see what they look like when he has not played on a line with any of the team’s other centers (Evgney Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, and Nic Dowd).

Here’s how that looked, five-on-five adjusted and relative (through 313:16 of ice time):

  • CF%: 55.65 (+5.28)
  • xGF%: 62.23 (+11.78)
  • SCF%: 59.52 (+9.61)
  • HDCF%: 59.57 (+10.00)
  • Off. Zone Starts: 58.75%

So it looks like his stats at center are somehow even more impressive than his overall numbers. Here’s his impact on the ice without the big four centers:

There may be a little noise in there from some limited time playing wing on a line with guys like Hendrix Lapierre, Protas, or Michael Sgarbossa, but it’s not likely enough to skew the data one way or another.

It’s probably not too surprising that McMichael has done well when playing center - that’s the position in which he was drafted and where he starred in juniors. So why not keep him there full time? Well, it’s not an easy position to crack with the Caps pretty well set up the middle at the moment.

Still, it would be great to see Laviolette get him some more shifts at center when he can. If McMichael can be as impactful as he is with chaos time and deployment, imagine what he could do in his strongest position.