Draft Profile: The Risk of Passing On Matvei Michkov
It’s the Eastern Conference Finals of 2026. The Flyers’ rebuild worked better than could reasonably be expected. Their “youth movement” bore fruit and pushed them through the first 2 rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It’s Game 7 of an absolute war of a series with the Detroit Red Wings, a team who also spent these last years rebuilding: honing their team for this moment. The game goes into overtime.
There are so many similarities between these teams. There are a few differences, either in roster quality or construction method. But there’s one difference.
The Red Wings drafted Matvei Michkov at #8 overall in the 2023 NHL Draft. The Flyers drafted anyone else who’s struggling to make the top-6 of this contender just like most prospects.
Overtime doesn’t go to plan because Matvei Michkov has the talent to render even the best-laid plans utterly toothless. One impossible move on an otherwise quality defender. One impossible shot through Carter Hart.
And Matvei Michkov wins the series. The Flyers are going home.
We’ll get them next year, the Flyers and their fans say as Matvei Michkov leads the Red Wings to their first Stanley Cup since 2008.
The Flyers never go back to the Eastern Conference Finals because repeat appearances are never guaranteed.
They watched a singularly brilliant superstar bury their hopes of reaching hockey’s apex, just as they watched Patrick Kane end their only Cup run of the 2000s and 2010s.
And the guy they drafted in his stead can’t keep a job on the second line of a contender. That time, the lottery prevented them from getting that very same superstar.
This time, it was fear that prevented them from drafting the superstar. Reckless caution. Being too afraid to take action cost them a Stanley Cup. They thought that risk only came if you drafted Matvei Michkov.
They didn’t realize that letting some other teams draft Matvei Michkov was also a risk. Their conservativism made so much sense at the time. Their caution seemed so justifiable, back in the 2023 Draft.
But now it’s 2027. The Flyers haven’t made it past the first round since being eliminated by the Russian sensation they could have had. Coaches get fired. Nothing changes. GMs get fired. The magic still isn’t captured.
By 2030, the Flyers are calling for another rebuild. And Matvei Michkov just led Detroit to their 2nd Stanley Cup. By 2035, maybe—possibly—the Flyers will get the opportunity to draft another Matvei Michkov.
After 12 years of becoming older and wiser, maybe they’ve learned their lesson. Maybe this time, they’ll have the conviction and the gumption to do things better. Meanwhile, Michkov turned the Red Wings back into the cash cow of the league. Like they used to be in the days of Pavel Datsyuk.
They’re pretty happy they didn’t take the risk of passing on Matvei Michkov.
I apologize for my short departure into the world of storytelling. But with all the geopolitical analysts out there… and all the military experts telling thrillers in the NHL scouting world… I thought it might be useful if I shared the other story.
The story of a team who passed on Matvei Michkov for a talent who fades into the background of their NHL team.
Maybe that risk never bites them. Maybe some other kid they draft becomes a top-line player. It’s a real possibility. It is.
He’s not the only kid from this draft I like. Read more:
But the fact remains: Matvei Michkov is a special talent. He’s the kind of player you only get to draft once every few years.
There’s certainty in his projection to the NHL’s elite because of just how good he is already. If his name was Matt Mitchell, who played for the Winnipeg Ice… that would be thoroughly understood.
Since he was a 15-year-old too advanced for the Russian U20 leagues, Matvei Michkov has had only one direct comparable to his talents in his age group: Connor Bedard.
They’ve been intertwined for years. A Canadian superstar on an inevitable rise to the top of the NHL. A Russian phenom who was taking Eastern Europe by storm.
Two generational talents. One draft.
A lot has changed since Michkov’s pre-draft seasons, but Matvei hasn’t changed. His talent hasn’t waned. His star has never dimmed. We try to pretend. We try to make ourselves feel better about eschewing this kid for a political situation he has no control over.
He isn’t that good.
10 goals in 12 games while playing for the VHL, the KHL’s equivalent to the AHL. A league where prospects only rarely succeed in their draft seasons, much less go nearly a goal per game.
I have concerns with the way he does it. Projectability.
The 18-year-old smashing U20 players to bits doesn’t have projectability concerns. Nobody has any issues believing Connor Bedard will go from smashing CHL competition to NHL competition in record time.
The 18-year-old smashing professional, grown men? He has projectability concerns. Does that even make sense? No, it doesn’t. And nonsensical ideas have a shelf life. Eventually, the truth will be out. And that’s what happened to Matvei Michkov.
Michkov arrives with HK Sochi on loan from his native KHL club: CSKA. Seeking to prove that he can—not just hang—but truly thrive at the KHL level, Matvei pushes for an opportunity to play elsewhere.
He gets his wish by playing for the worst team and the worst environment the KHL has to offer. In many ways, he was set up to fail.
But Michkov didn’t fail. He thrived. He thrived like a prospect has never thrived before.
20 points in 27 games with HK Sochi. Smashing records were set by NHL stars like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin and Evgeni Kuznetsov and Vladimir Tarasenko.
The truth outed, and Michkov’s talent was—once again—impossible to deny.
I’m not pretending that Matvei Michkov comes without risk. He doesn’t.
I’m not pretending that Matvei Michkov comes without on-ice hockey flaws. He’s an undersized winger whose capacity for defense is… questionable.
But Connor Bedard has hardly shown the makings of a future Selke winner, and nobody brings it up. Nobody cares.
His offensive talent overshadows those concerns. He’s too dynamic to care about that. Michkov has spent his whole life flashing a similarly game-breaking level of offensive talent.
Given the choice between the two, go with Bedard. He is less of a risk and the reward is just as great… if not greater. But only Bedard can stake that claim. Matvei Michkov is a greater reward… a higher upside… than everyone else in this draft.
Adam Fantilli comes close. And comes with arguably less risk than either Michkov or Bedard. So maybe he ought to go 2nd. That’s fair.
Will Fantilli fade into the background of your NHL team 3 years from now? Unlikely.
Leo Carlsson has a unique ceiling. His combination of size and skill is uncanny. It cannot be taught. He’s more of a project than he lets be. But maybe his ultimate ceiling is greater than Matvei’s.
Will Leo Carlsson fade into the background? Maybe. But… maybe not. It’s a different kind of risk. But it’s still a risk that makes sense. If you love Leo that much, go ahead and take him 3rd. I wouldn’t blame you at all.
But that’s where the upside—the reward—stops being comparable.
And if you pass on that upside, knowing it to be as game-changing as it is, you just took a risk.
If you don’t take Matvei Michkov at 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 or 8… you better be right.
Because if that kid comes over, he’s gonna fill the hearts of every GM who was too cowardly to pull the trigger with bottomless regret.
Unless the kid they drafted in his stead is a top-line player producing something close to similar value.
So what is the risk of Matvei Michkov? Let’s be very specific.
There are two kinds of risk. One of which was exemplified by Ivan Fedotov.
During the perfectly righteous decision to dodge Russian military service (as their hockey players often do), Fedotov received some horrendous advice on how to go about it. He ended up running afoul of the Kremlin directly and being detained by Russian authorities.
That was horrific. It was criminal by a thuggish regime. I don’t wish to make light of it at all. And I will not.
But it’s different than the other kind of risk people are posting.
This kind of risk is more akin to the Evgeni Malkin situation from way back, where Malkin’s small-town KHL team wasn’t used to having a star as grand as Malkin.
He had to flee the country to ever play in the NHL. His home team clung to him ferociously, including coming into his home and refusing to leave before he signs an extension.
Is CSKA—Michkov’s club—likely to engage in that kind of lunacy?
Well, not particularly.
CSKA is a Russian powerhouse. In fact, they pride themselves on grooming future NHL stars. They want to be known as a development factory for kids all across Russia, so they can use it in recruiting all the young talent in their country.
Letting Michkov go to the NHL is part of that process. Telling future talented Russian youngsters “We can make you into Matvei Michkov” will be part of the sale.
Just as CSKA tries to sell the kids of the current day on: “We can make you like Kirill Kaprizov or Artemi Panarin.”
If we’re going to talk geopolitics, let’s talk geopolitics. Russia was banned from participating in international sporting events because banning them hurts their economy.
The best way to help Russia’s economy is to have Matvei Michkov making $13M a year in a post-cap stagnation NHL world, then coming home every summer to inject unreal amounts of money into their local economy.
Do you think Matvei’s talent makes him more likely to run afoul of Russian authorities? Just the opposite, it makes him less likely. Ivan Fedotov was a year older than Carter Hart and made his NHL debut on a team who already had Carter Hart.
He wasn’t Igor Shesterkin or Ilya Sorokin. If he was, am I saying that things might have gone differently?
Yes. I am. The Kremlin are cynical operator and always have been. And they’re capable of doing basic math.
There’s a reason Kirill Kaprizov never actually found himself in trouble. There’s speculation of close calls, and yet… he’s thinking of returning home this summer.
And he’ll come back unbothered for the Wild’s training camp. Because money talks. And star power comes with money.
Michkov’s talent doesn’t put a target on his back. It puts a shield over his chest. And the risk isn’t in selecting Matvei Michkov. No, the risk is on those who give the opportunity to their competitors.
The question Flyers fans should ask themselves if Michkov is there at 7 is very simple:
Do you want a franchise player? Or would you rather the Red Wings have a franchise player? Or the Capitals? Or the Penguins?
Maybe decades of inferiority to the Penguins isn’t enough. Perhaps you want to repeat the process. Maybe you want Michkov to rip your heart out for another 20 years, just like Crosby and Malkin did.
Or maybe… you’re finally ready to turn the page. And become the team wielding the dagger.
Mandatory credit: Johnny Ulecka