As you may have heard by now, the 2023 NHL Draft class is once again stocked full of talented players ranging from all across the globe. In particular, one Russian prospect has caught my eye time and time again. Matvei Michkov is an 18-year-old right winger that is bringing a unique skill set to the table in this upcoming draft.
Related: 2023 NHL Draft Guide
He is currently ranked in the top five by most sources including TSN, Daily Faceoff, and The Hockey News. The Detroit Red Wings unfortunately don’t have one of those first five picks but there’s always a chance that a player will drop last second, get passed on by the eight teams picking ahead of Detroit, or Steve Yzerman works his magic to get a higher pick.
Michkov’s Mighty Game
During the 2022-23 season, Michkov was getting bounced around a fair bit, having played on four teams across three leagues by the end of the season. The majority of it was spent with HK Sochi of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) on a loan where he played 27 games. In this span, he racked up nine goals and 11 assists for a total of 20 points. This was his second season seeing ice time in the KHL with his first being when he was 16. Being that young in the top league in Russia is a true testament to the level of talent that Michkov possesses.
Later this past season, he ended up joining Kapitan Stupino for the MHL Playoffs on yet another loan. While he was not a member of their team throughout the regular season, he was an extremely valuable addition to their playoff roster. The MHL is not an unfamiliar league to him as he began playing there when he was just 15 years old. During the 2021-22 season with SKA-1946 St. Petersburg, he put up 22 goals and 16 assists through 22 regular season games, followed by 13 goals and four assists in 17 playoff games. He’s shown that he is capable of translating his production to higher levels, leading me to believe he could be wildly successful in the NHL one day.
“But what makes him [Michkov] dangerous is the way he’s able to combine his handling and his skating. He’s very deceptive and elusive, which helps to make up for his lack of speed; even standing still, it’s difficult to take the puck away from him. He uses the threat of his shot with quick hands and his innate ability to chain together an array of crafty moves to freeze defenders and make them look silly.”
To sum up Michkov’s game in one word, I would choose “productive.” Not only does he consistently put up points, but he is also productive in all other elements of his game. He’s a shifty, skillful, and crafty puck handler which plays into him being a consistent presence on the score sheet at any level. His confidence allows him to take on players several years older than him and make it look easy. Partnering all of these attributes with his lethal shot, you’re looking at an extremely well-rounded player that any team would be lucky to draft.
Fitting in With the Red Wings
The Red Wings currently have three prospects that play on the right wing, so adding another player at that position is surely on the front office’s wish list. If they were to add Michkov in the upcoming draft, he would be in great company alongside Pontus Andreasson, Kienan Draper, Theodor Niederbach, Ryan O’Reilly, Ethan Phillips, and Sam Stange. He would likely slot in as being the second or third-best prospect at his position and has shown some true NHL-level potential.
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Regarding his skill set and how that fits into the prospect pipeline, the Red Wings need players who can shoot the puck and score. As simple as that sounds, the depth chart is desperately lacking these types of players and Michkov would fit that need very, very well. Fun fact: at the 2021 U18 World Championship, Michkov actually scored more goals than fellow 2023 Draft candidate Connor Bedard! He had a stunning 12 goals and four assists in seven games while Bedard had seven goals and seven assists.
Overall, adding Michkov into the system would help to round out the depth at the right winger position as well as bring in that goal scorer that is at the top of the Red Wings’ wish list heading into the draft. While there might be a handful of players on the depth chart at his position, not all of them have shown flashes of NHL potential yet.
So, Why Draft Michkov?
Michkov is an astounding prospect all around and has lots of elements of his game that make him desirable for teams such as the Red Wings. Since there is somewhat of a lack of depth at his position, that gives Yzerman and co. some more incentive to draft a player such as him. As I said, a goal scorer is at the top of the Red Wings’ wish list heading into the draft so if the opportunity presents itself to draft him, why not take that opportunity?
On the flip side of the coin, you cannot have this conversation without pointing out some of the negatives. One of the biggest roadblocks or potential hazards when it comes to drafting Michkov is simply the fact that he is Russian. There are plenty of highly skilled Russian players that are currently playing in the NHL or with affiliate teams so this has nothing to do with skill, talent, or anything of the sort. The main issue is that bringing new players over to North America is still a challenge following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
To add to that, he has a contract that goes for three more seasons in Russia. This means that even if he is immediately deemed NHL-ready by the team that drafts him, they will have to wait a while until he is eligible to leave. The combined factors of the tensions and conflicts following the invasion and a contract that can’t be abandoned could be enough for most teams to decide to pass on Michkov. Looking on the bright side, this could drop him out of the top five and make him a genuine option for the Red Wings to select at ninth overall.
All this being said, I do not think that his nationality should take away from how talented of a player he is when the draft rolls around. Yes, there are some areas of his game that still need improvement but there is not one single prospect in this year’s draft, give or take Bedard, that doesn’t have areas to improve on.
“It’s rare to see a player at 18 years old who is as composed with the puck as Michkov is. He has so much patience, is able to wait for the perfect play to present itself, and he’s very deceptive in his handling and skating, combining them to fake out and weave around opponents, creating as much time as he needs to find that perfect play.” – Smaht Scouting
“The big chip the Red Wings have that few other teams can match is an additional mid-first-round pick in this draft at No. 17. Of course, if the Red Wings are going to trade up and wait on Michkov, the safety of that additional first-round pick only becomes more important — giving Detroit more of a sure-thing who can at least come to training camp within the next year or two. Moving it, then, would only be doubling down on risk. And perhaps, given Michkov’s ability, that’s still worth it” – Max Bultman, The Athletic (from “Could Matvei Michkov tempt the Red Wings into a rare early-draft trade?,” The Athletic, June 5, 2023).
“His audacity as an offensive player made him dangerous every play. His precise puck handling and evasive downhill attack mentality fueled a tournament record 13 points through five games. His eight goals tied for the tournament lead as well. All of Michkov’s efforts were rewarded with a gold medal, leading the Russians to the ultimate prize.” – Tony Ferrari