2023 NHL Draft prospect profile: Matvei Michkov is one of the draft's biggest question marks
There's no denying the talent, but which team will be willing to wait?
Leading up to the 2022-23 hockey season, Matvei Michkov was often mentioned in the same breath as Connor Bedard as the two were seen for a long time as two of the top prospects of the class.
Now, just under two months from the draft, there is a chance Michkov doesn't get drafted in the top five. The circumstances dropping him down draft boards is of no fault of his own, which makes it even harder to get a real read on where he will end up.
Birthplace: Perm, Russia
Date of birth: December 9, 2004
Position: Right Wing
Weight: 172 lbs.
Team: SKA Saint Petersburg/HK Sochi (KHL)
The contract Michkov has with his Russian team was already generating buzz as early as 2021, the same year he led the IIHF Men's World Under-18 Championship in scoring with 16 points in seven games (12 goals, four assists). Among the tournament's scoring leaders are names like Shane Wright, Bedard, Mason McTavish, Fabian Lysell, and Logan Stankoven.
Almost all of them were top-five picks in their draft year, almost all of them (other than Bedard) are one or two years older, and all of them were outproduced by Michkov.
Other than two games at the cancelled 2022 World Junior Hockey Championship, and the 2021-22 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, the 2021 Under-18 tournament was the last time Michkov participated in an IIHF event. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has made the country ineligible to participate, leaving Michkov's development widely hidden.
He played only three KHL games with SKA Saint Petersburg before playing mainly in the VHL. Then, he was loaned to HK Sochi, where he put up nine goals and 11 assists in 27 games which reminded everyone why he was seen as a top prospect entering the draft.
It's easy to forget how dominant Michkov was. In those two games at the 2022 WJC, he had three goals. At the Hlinka Gretzky Cup he had eight goals and five assists in only five games leading the tournament in scoring yet again.
Last month, Michkov's father passed away unexpectedly. Dealing with such an event at a young age is tough for any teenager, and hockey players are not immune to that. While it alone doesn't affect his ability on the ice or his draft stock, teams will want to know how he is faring as they try to get a better understanding of him in the scouting process.
By almost any metric, Michkov is among the most talented offensive players in the draft. He creates scoring whenever he is on the ice. There was some concern that he wasn't as dominant as expected, but he still performed extremely well, and it really is a testament to just how good he had been prior to this season.
Before his loan to Sochi, he had 10 goals and four assists in 12 games in the VHL, the second division Russian men's league. He found his stride in Sochi, putting up almost a point-per-game on one of the worst teams in the league. Sochi won 11 games out of 68, and had a goal differential of -112.
After his season, he went to the MHL playoffs, Russia's U20 league. He had four goals and three assists in five games.
Michkov's play and production on the ice has not taken a hit. If anything, his projection purely on the ice is as high as it has ever been.
While not a foolproof method, HockeyProspecting is very high on Michkov. He ranks higher than any of the players in the conversation after the #1 overall pick and his list of comparable players in his draft year includes Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, and Connor McDavid.
Obviously there's no guarantee that Michkov becomes any of those players, but it sure is better to be compared to them than to not be compared to them. Michkov's play in his season a year ago is a big driver in those comparables. His projection slowed slightly with his slow start to this season.
What makes Michkov so compelling is his offensive toolkit. There isn't a skill you want in an offensive player that Michkov doesn't have. He has a great shot and release, he has the ability to make defenders look absolutely silly, and outstanding vision and playmaking ability.
He's one of the smarter players on the ice in this draft class. He just has an innate ability to create offence. He not only sees the game at a higher level but he has the physical tools and skills to execute what his mind sees. Sometimes he tries to make plays that are too challenging when there are more effective plays available. As he moves up levels, he will learn what the limits of his abilities are.
He doesn't have high-end speed but he has plenty of quickness and is considered to be a very good skater.
He's not a player who will wow teams with his 200-foot game, and that's fine for a scorer as good as he is. He's not bad defensively, but he won't necessarily be a player used in close games with a lead or on the penalty kill. His off-puck play is good and he can often be seen forechecking well.
Dobber Prospects: #3
Elite Prospects: #4
Hockey Prospect: #3
Hadi Kalakeche: #3
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #4
NHL Central Scouting: #2 (European skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #3
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #3
It is hard to know what to make of Michkov. On talent alone, there's no question he's among the very best players in the draft. The questions surrounding his contract in the KHL is one thing, but the uncertainty surrounding Russia geopolitically potentially raises even more questions as to when he will be able to play in North America. Russia's lack of IIHF tournaments make it harder to scout him, especially compared to his peers.
Hockey management people are generally risk-averse, and even the slightest appearance of risk may make enough teams opt for a safer option. Given that the average NHL GM's tenure is 5.5 years, can a manager afford to wait over half of that for their top pick to play for them? That's the question many will be asking themselves over the next few weeks.
Eventually, though, it will get to a point where a team will look sillier for passing on the Russian than for taking him. Whether that threshold happens at pick #3, #5, or later – and which team is making that decision – will determine where he ends up.