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Matvei Michkov Could be the Most Highly Anticipated “Acquisition” Since Eric Lindros

(Michkov: Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images, Lindros: Steve Crandall/Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Flyers have made a lot of progress with the KHL and their Russian prospects over the last few months starting with Ivan Fedotov and subsequently crossing into Matvei Michkov.

Fedotov’s arrival to North America almost came out of nowhere with everyone closing the book on the hulking goaltender. After returning from his one-year service in the Russian Navy, Fedotov made his way back to the KHL and continued to play in Russia despite having a contract with the Flyers and the IIHF stepping in and administering sanctions.

His contract was terminated near the end of the season and we even got to see the 6’8 goaltender in action during the final stretch drive of the Flyers season. While he needs more time to acclimate to the North American style of play, he signed a 2-year contract, ensuring that he will be between the pipes for the foreseeable future.

Then there’s the phenom-in-the-making in Michkov who has caused quite a stir in Philadelphia since their off-season began. There were rumblings that the Flyers might not have to wait until 2026 for his arrival and in fact there are talkings ongoing to terminate his current contract ahead of the 2024-25 NHL season.

SKA St. Petersburg have been rather forthcoming with their intentions and while they would be letting him go, they would continue to hold his KHL rights until 2026. Ahead of his all-important draft day, there were rumours circling like wild fire that there was a possibility that he would never come over to the NHL, which incidentally scared off a few teams, and tanked his draft stock. It worked out for the Flyers, who would be welcoming the first superstar in the making since Eric Lindros.

In no way am I comparing Michkov to the legendary Lindros, but his arrival to Philadelphia would almost hold the same gravitas. The Flyers haven’t had a superstar, phenom, or a very highly rated prospect since they pulled off the Lindros trade in 1992. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux, Nolan Patrick, Morgan Frost, and Joel Farabee are just a number of prospects who were rated highly amongst the Flyers’ lore, but they were never supposed to be anything more than a point-per-game player or a two-way force with the exception of maybe Patrick, who was being compared to Ryan Getzlaf and Anze Kopitar.

Michkov entered his draft season almost neck and neck with Connor Bedard. The Canadian and the odds-on favourite to win the 2024 Calder Trophy moved well ahead of Michkov and the rest of his draft class after an amazing performance in the WHL coupled with his World Junior Championship masterclass. Michkov, on the other hand, had his reputation nearly tarnished, was not allowed to play in international tournaments due to sanctions levied against Russia, and was barely scouted for a variety of reasons.

By the time we reached draft night, the one common theme was that Michkov was arguably one of the most talented players available – if not the most – but there were concerns on his availability and whether or not he’d be able to make it over to North America once his KHL contract expired in 2026.

That didn’t deter neither player nor team as the Flyers came away with Michkov with the 7th overall pick and are currently looking like the winners of draft night alongside Chicago with news filtering out that he could be on his way this summer.

Here are a few things some of the more prominent writers had to say about Michkov ahead of the draft: 

Tony Ferrari – The Hockey News – June 5th: “The ultimate enigma of the 2023 draft class, Michkov has scored everywhere he’s gone, but the process wasn’t always there to start the season while in the SKA system. The change in his game when he was moved to Sochi was outstanding, and we finally saw the Michkov that we all wanted to see.”

Scott Wheeler – The Athletic – June 5th: “Michkov’s brilliance comes primarily from his ability to make his decisions quickly and execute on them with incredible proficiency, whether that’s ripping a patterned shot (his one-timer, his standstill wrister, his curl-and-drag, etc.), a flash of his unbelievable hands, a quick move into a pass, a sudden stop-up, or an attacking cut.”

Chris Peters – Flo Hockey – June 1st: “Michkov has remarkable net sense, which makes him a scoring threat at all times. While Bedard has the best shot in the draft, Michkov may have the best understanding of how to score. He out-thinks goalies and opposing defenses and is always in an attack position in the offensive zone.”

Corey Pronman – The Athletic – May 30th: “He has truly special offensive skill and hockey sense. His mind operates differently from other players in how he sees the play develop and he always seems to find ways to figure into scoring chances despite not being the biggest or fastest.”

Jason Bukala – Sportsnet – May 5th: “He plays quick and fast. He’s a threat off the rush, has a great stick, and makes plays in a phone booth. He’s a potential difference maker offensively. Although he’s not tall in stature, he’s sturdy and rarely gets pushed off the play. ”

Heading into the summer festivities last year, Michkov had one of the most impressive KHL seasons for an upcoming draftee, outscoring some of the greatest Russian players that have ever laced their skates in the NHL, including Alex Ovechkin.

Many have compared him to Kirill Kaprizov of the Minnesota Wild or even a younger version of Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning. If the Flyers can get either version, they will be in the midst of something special. In fact, some have even gone as far as to tab him as a hybrid of both of those players.

His 2023-24 season didn’t start off too well as he was either benched or scratched by SKA St. Petersburg. The KHL is not known for their development of young players, especially from the top perennial contenders for the Gagarin Cup. They usually rely on veterans and will either have their youngsters languishing in bottom roles or have them loaned out.

SKA St. Petersburg eventually went with the latter option and loaned him back to HK Sochi, where he played his draft season. After tallying 20 points in 27 games for Sochi in 2022-23, Michkov got off to a blistering start with 10 points in his first 8 games and finished the season with 19 goals and 41 points in 47 games. He dealt with his fair share of injuries and illnesses but he still managed a fantastic draft+1 season in a league comparable to the NHL.

Heading into the 2023-24 season, Daily Faceoff had Michkov ranked as the third-best prospect in the sport behind just Bedard and Adam Fantilli of the Columbus Blue Jackets. As the season was winding down, Craig Button of TSN had Michkov 5th – Cutter Gauthier was his top-ranked prospect. Even the New York Times had Michkov in a rarified space with just Šimon Nemec being the only other prospect in “Tier 1”.

There’s a lot of excitement in the air regarding Michkov and his future debut with the Flyers. His arrival will be the brightest spot on the brightest day in recent Flyers history. The organization has entered their darkest period in franchise history after having missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season for only the second time; on top of the fact that they’ve missed the playoffs in 8 of the last 12 years and have only advanced past the first round once since 2011-12.

This is a club that had missed the playoffs just 8 times between 1967-68 to 2011-12 with 5 of those years coming consecutively between 1988-89 to 1993-94 – coincidentally around the same time they swung for Lindros. He made his NHL debut in 1992-93 and immediately scored 41 goals and 75 points in 61 games in his rookie season.

He added 97 points the following year before winning the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP in 1994-95 while also leading the Flyers back into the postseason. He arrived when the Flyers were at their lowest and he brought them back into the conversation within a few seasons. They went to one Conference Semifinal, two Conference Finals, and had one Stanley Cup Final appearance between 1994-95 and 1999-00 with Lindros leading the way.

Lindros brought back a sense of hope to the city of Philadelphia, almost similar to what we’re feeling today with Michkov. The Flyers are bereft of talent and the young Russian phenom checks off nearly every single box for the organization. Will he have the same on-ice impact as the “Big E”? Probably not but that’s more so because Lindros was 6’4” and weighed in at 240 pounds. However, Michkov will flourish in his own way, showcasing his skill set in a league that is filled with young talent of all shapes and sizes.

Flyers fan born in the heart of Leafs nation

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