Though we are over a year out from the 2023 NHL Draft, it’s not too early to start familiarizing ourselves with the two highly-touted prospects expected to headline that draft class. In an earlier article, we took a look at Connor Bedard, the young phenom lighting it up in Canada’s Western Hockey League (WHL). This time around, we’ll be taking a look at Matvei Michkov, the teen sensation obliterating the Russian hockey circuit.
Russian Phenom Matvei Michkov
Michkov first got on the scouting radar in the 2019-20 season, where he put up a mind-melting 109 points in 26 games playing in Russia’s under-16 circuit. This ridiculous stat line includes 70 goals, and two Svechnikov-style goals in one game (something he is still able to pull off with regularity).
The 2020-21 season saw Michkov start to make some noise on the international stage. He was selected to represent Russia at the World Under-18 Championships in Texas as a 16-year-old and did not disappoint. Michkov went on to lead the tournament, scoring 16 points in 7 games. His 12 goals were just two shy of the tournament record set by Alexander Ovechkin in 2002 (Cole Caufield tied the record in the 2019 tournament). Michkov’s highlight reel from the tournament is insane.
Currently, Michkov is splitting time between the Russian U-20 junior league (MHL) and the top professional league in Russia, the KHL. While naturally tearing it up in the MHL (28 points in 11 games against competition up to three years older), Michkov is playing a middle-six role in what many consider to be the second-best league in the world and not looking out of place. In 13 games with SKA St. Petersburg, Michkov has produced two goals and three assists for 5 points. Those numbers might not exactly jump off the page, the fact that he is getting playing time and producing offensively in a top professional league such as the KHL at such a young age is simply astounding.
It gets thrown around a lot when it comes to Russian prospects, but Michkov’s is reminiscent of Ovechkin. He is an explosive offensive force who does not shy away from contact, and essentially does whatever it takes to score. There is a bit of a size difference, though. By 16, Ovechkin was already 6’2 while Michkov is listed at 5’10.
One of the first things noticeable, when you start watching highlights of Matvei Michkov, is the explosive skating. He has a strong stride that enables him to cut through multiple defenders and bounce off of contact. His edgework/stops and starts are incredible, enabling him to make defenders looks silly much like he did to this poor defender from the Czech Republic at the U18’s:
His first few strides are, again, explosive (it’s hard not to over-use that word when talking about this kid). He will win races to loose pucks nine times out of ten. And of course, his straight-line speed is top-end, giving him the ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone or turn the corner on defenders.
High Compete Level
Though his size is pretty average, Michkov has a huge compete level. He is not afraid to engage physically with opponents to gain or win back possession of the puck. What’s more, he is unafraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice to score goals. So often in his highlight packages, Michkov will cut to the middle of the ice, fighting through stick and body checks before unleashing an absolute laser beam on the net.
Another thing that stood out is how much Michkov plays down low. So many of his goals start with him below the goal line and finish with a power move to the front of the net. Though it will be harder to do against bigger/older competition, it’s a clear sign that Michklov is more than willing to do whatever it takes to score goals.
Hands and Shot
Despite all the power aspects of his game, Matvei Michkov is far from being a power forward. He possesses an incredibly high skill level that enables him to score highlight-reel goals. As I mentioned before, Michkov is unafraid to pull off a Svechnikov-style goal against any competition, including against men in International competition:
— The Hockey News (@TheHockeyNews) November 13, 2021
That’s another thing that I forgot to mention: Matvei Michkov became the youngest player in Russian hockey history to suit up for the men’s national team in November when he joined the team for the Karjala Cup. Though it is a smaller tournament and does not include any NHL talent, it’s still a pretty impressive accomplishment.
Apart from the Svechnikov, Michkov has the hands to pull off any move he wants to beat a defender one-on-one or make a goalie look silly on a breakaway. He can stickhandle in tight spaces and maintain possession of the puck, as well as make room for himself down low.
Though not on the level of Connor Bedard, Michkov possesses a very lethal shot. His great hands enable him to get shots off in small windows between defender’s sticks. And he can put the shot anywhere he wants. For some of the goals Michkov scores, there is such a small window to put a puck, goaltenders are left baffled as to how Michkov picked it. His shot allows Michkov to be a scoring threat from any range. It is hard and deadly accurate.
Though Matvei Michkov possesses all of the physical skills to make him an elite prospect, what truly sets him apart from the rest is his hockey sense. He has the creativity to score goals in ways other players wouldn’t think of. Lacrosse-style goals are a regular occurrence for Michkov.
More than the flashy goals, Michkov routinely scores goals that goaltenders do not expect. Whether it be banking pucks off of goaltender’s backs and pads, or driving to the net from down low and shooting against the grain, Michkov is a master at fooling goalies. It would be easy to see him score a couple of these goals and write them off as a fluke. But the more one watches, you can see him scoring goals like this consistent enough to realize he is doing it on purpose. It’s a truly unique skill and one that makes scouts salivate.
And of course, with being a constant scoring threat, it opens up room for his teammates as well. So often defenders will get caught focusing on Michkov, trying not to be made to look silly. Michkov will exploit this and feather creative passes to his teammates for easy goals.
In addition to all of that, Michkov always seems to be in the right position to score goals. He has an uncanny ability to get lost in coverage, and when a puck squirts free Michkov is there to bang it home. Or he will find that open part of the ice in a dangerous area, available for a one-timer. No matter how you parse it, Michkov is always a scoring threat. Below is one of the best videos that showcase all of these skillsets. Michkov wears number 39 in all clips.
The Catch On Matvei Michkov
Though the skillset essentially guarantees Michkov to be a top pick for the 2023 draft, there is a drawback. Michkov recently signed a five-year contract with SKA Saint Petersburg that runs through the end of the 2025-2026 season. This means Michkov will not play an NHL game for at least three seasons after he is drafted. Corey Pronman recently wrote a masterful article for The Athletic detailing the situation, which will give NHL teams pause. Will a team be willing to spend a top-three pick on a player they will not have for three seasons?
There is no question Matvei Michkov is a special talent. He has mastered the one skill that is hardest to master in hockey: scoring goals. He might be better at this than any prospect in recent memory. But will his contract situation scare teams away from picking him at the top of the draft? That is certainly where his talent dictates him to be selected. Only time will tell. But until then we can all enjoy the highlights and the hype Michkov generates.
Embed from Getty Images