Matvei Michkov Has Always Been Generational
Before I say the first word of my argument, I want to define how I see “generational talent.”
It’s a bit more akin to how other people see “superstars.” It’s more inclusive than most, and I want to keep it that way.
To me, a generational talent is anyone whose abilities leave a mark on the sport that they’re playing. Someone so special that their play is indelible in your mind. For me, there’s always more than one person like that playing in any league at any given time.
Connor McDavid is a generational talent, and he’s the one that everyone gloms onto.
But I’ve always struggled to call Nikita Kucherov anything except generational. How could I watch him handle the puck, and watch the supernatural flashes of brilliance he produces, and not have an entire generation of hockey partially defined by that experience?
I feel the same way about Nathan MacKinnon. And Auston Matthews. All for slightly different reasons. Like artists, they all leave their own mark on this era of hockey.
That’s 4 forwards playing the game right now, who I’d bestow that label to. And there are others I struggle to exclude, like Leon Draisaitl.
When I say Matvei Michkov is generational, that’s what I mean. I struggle to picture the sport of hockey 10 years from now, where his audacious brilliance isn’t one of the first things on every fan’s mind.
I see how Connor Bedard got the label of “generational” as a prospect. He was already influencing the visions and memories of hockey fans from the time he was 15.
But what about Matvei Michkov?
At one time, it wasn’t considered a hot take or an exaggeration to think of Matvei Michkov as generational. He’s a prodigy like few the sport has ever seen. He has the records to prove it. He has the production to prove it.
And yet, after the geopolitical tensions with Russia hit their boiling point, it seemed as if Matvei’s reputation was a casualty of the war. For a while, the hockey world had time for the idea that Michkov was not Bedard’s lesser. But that all changed when the war happened.
Nobody wants to admit that a child of the geopolitical enemy could be as gifted as the latest prodigal son of Canada. Hell, let’s be wholly honest: nobody wants to admit that anyone could break up the precious lineage of Canadians.
When discussing generational talents, you always hear “Crosby and McDavid” with Bedard next in line. Nice and neat and unmistakably Canadian.
Auston Matthews going #1 overall was some kind of hotly contested issue, and then he puts up 40 goals as a rookie. What happened? Were all the scouts just accidentally wrong? Or was Matthews just not allowed to join the Maple Leaf-themed party?
I’ll say this much: one theory sounds a whole lot less ridiculous than the other. And Auston Matthews going from a “bland 2-way center” to a generational goal-scoring threat in 1 year is absolutely ridiculous.
But it goes further than that now. It goes deeper than that with Michkov.
Nobody wants to actually put their feelings on invasions and wars to the side so they could fairly evaluate a hockey player.
I never thought that was fair. Matvei isn’t in the war. He’s scoring goals, not slaying the innocent. Why should he pay for the sins of the Kremlin? Why should he be forced to answer for the actions of his nation by hanging demerits on his play, which are ridiculous on its face?
I thought all of this before Matvei Michkov was drafted by the Flyers. I begged the Flyers to draft him if they were given the opportunity. The way I see it: they were extraordinarily lucky to get the opportunity.
The way I see it: the Flyers just drafted a generational talent, all the same as if they won the lottery and got the prodigal son.
The U-18s Tournament
As a 16-year-old, Matvei Michkov competed in the U18 World Juniors for Team Russia. He led the entire tournament in goals and points. He won the tournament MVP and outproduced Connor Bedard.
The common refrain since then has been: “It’s just one tournament!”
Another refrain: “Bedard was younger!” (Not that much younger, they were both stupidly young and IN THE SAME DRAFT CLASS)
Yet another refrain: “Bedard has gotten infinitely better since then!”
It’s this last one that I find most baffling. Bedard certainly has gotten better since then. You can see the linear track in his junior league scoring. He went from dominating the CHL to dominating the CHL even harder. It’s very easy to track. Very easy to comprehend.
Michkov has taken a different development path. He dominates a league, proves he’s too much for that league to handle, then goes to a different league. You have to do a bunch of complicated NHL equivalency calculations. It isn’t simple and linear.
I mean, this kid was taken away from the MHL–the top Russian junior league–at 16. It’s a U20 league! He was too good for it before he ever turned 17!
Suffice it to say: since that tournament, Michkov has done nothing but set records. In every league he’s played in, he smashed another record.
He didn’t plateau. He went from dominating junior leagues to putting up a goal every game against men in the VHL, then setting scoring records as a draft-eligible player in the KHL.
Since that tournament, Matvei Michkov has done nothing but produce at a level one would expect a generational talent to produce.
I didn’t realize being generational had more to do with your birth certificate than your play on the ice.
Michkov’s path to proving himself, arguably, has been even harder than Bedard’s. He’s had to take steps up in competition and reconfigure his game to meet the new challenges placed before him. Bedard has just had to dominate the same kids he’s been dominating for years now.
Not to mention suffering a knee injury to begin his draft year, derailing the beginning of his season with SKA and likely having reverberating effects through the year.
Like many injured NHL players, I’m not sure Matvei was ever fully himself this year. We say Joel Farabee needs a good offseason and a training camp to feel right. Shouldn’t the same be applicable to 18-year-old Matvei Michkov?
And yet, despite that, he still set records. More goals in the VHL than any draft-eligible before him, and he did it in far fewer games. Most points per game for a draft-eligible in the VHL. Most points per game by a draft-eligible in the KHL.
What more does this kid have to do to make the point?
It would be one thing if the film ever revealed that all of Michkov’s goals and points were fraudulent, that he was preying on weak leagues and using tactics that would never project to the NHL. Far from it, Michkov’s offensive tactics are exceptionally projectable to the NHL.
He understands the strategy behind creating offense in hockey like few prospects ever have. There are things he does consistently that other prospects simply don’t do.
His attention to detail off the puck is immaculate. He’s always making himself an option and an outlet for his teammate. At any time, his feet are moving, and he’s simultaneously calculating how a teammate could/should pass to him and then how he will move the puck once he receives it.
He takes this concept to such an extreme that he’s often in the position to recover a loose puck, created by a teammate’s failed dangle.
He understands creating offense in hockey as a team concept. He’s the epitome of “making his linemates better” despite being such a dedicated sniper because he’s just so diligent as off-puck support.
It seems like whoever plays with Michkov is making more dynamic plays than they otherwise would, and that isn’t an accident. It’s very much a feature of his game.
Because he’s always an option, it means he’s always a threat that pulls away the attention of defenses. That means there’s less attention on his teammates than they’re accustomed to, and they have more space to operate than ever before.
People aren’t used to talking about “detail” in an offensive concept, but it’s very much true for Matvei. His detail is magnificent. He’s an excellent puck supporter. A transcendent one, really.
His defensive warts are there, but people often misdiagnose what’s happening. It isn’t because Michkov hates defense or whatever. It’s that his mind is engineered to think offense at all times. He’s constantly gambling, and anticipating that his team will recover a loose puck. He’s preemptively making himself an option for future stretch passes and outlet passes.
It looks awful when you watch the tape and see that he isn’t even on the screen while a defensive sequence is unfolding.
But ask Cam York if he’d like his winger to sense a loose puck, and dart to open space in the neutral zone. Chances are that he’d say: yes! Sign me up for that! Any puck-moving defenseman would love to play with someone like Michkov because he’s always giving them outlets for more effective hockey plays.
A normal winger would take a pass along the wall and wrestle with the defenseman at the point, praying to get the puck out.
Michkov makes himself available in space and skips that battle altogether. He’s overzealous doing it right now. His timing will improve naturally. He’ll gain a better understanding of when to fly and when to stay.
But I, for one, appreciate that he’s already pushing the envelope. Especially as a winger. If Michkov were supposed to be a center, I’d ding him for this. But he isn’t.
Connor Bedard does this, and he’s supposed to be a center. Nobody cares. Will Smith does this religiously, and he’s supposed to be a center. I’ve heard people in NHL Central Scouting say he plays a 200-foot game.
Granted, this off-puck magic only has so much appeal if Michkov didn’t bring the goods whenever he has the puck. And that’s the other half of the equation.
Michkov’s ability with the puck on his stick is transcendent.
He’s so fluid and fast with the Michigan that it’s no longer just a gimmick shot for him, but an actual and earnest attempt to score that needs to be treated with as much respect as a wrist shot from the lower slot.
That puck is rolling on the ice like a spinning quarter, and Michkov settles it and then completes the Michigan in one motion.
This is the KHL. He isn’t abusing junior competition here. He’s aware enough to fake a traditional wraparound and clear the defender by forcing him to defend that side of the net, then he uses some insanely intricate footwork to maneuver around the other side and complete the Michigan.
He doesn’t dangle just to dangle. Every move he makes has a ruthless sort of efficiency to it. And when he starts dangling, he has the puck on a Pavel Datsyuk-inspired string.
His dekes are so fast that they often elude highlight reel makers if they didn’t directly precede one of his dazzling goals.
It’s one of the things that make the Kucherov comparison so valid. He has this way of deking defenders right out of their skates at such a breakneck pace that everyone misses what just happened.
But sometimes, his dangles get loud and audacious. Just long enough for us to appreciate how dynamic he truly is:
That’s what happens when Michkov plays people close to his age group. That’s what he does when the physical gap between him and his competition isn’t enormous. That’s going to be the sort of thing he does when he’s 23 and in the NHL.
There’s no “just hit him” refrain here, either. They tried. They tried everything. Michkov is simply too good with the puck on his stick.
Right now, most KHL players have such physical advantages over him that he’s been forced to adopt a more quick-strike style. But he’s found ways to be dynamic even still.
He’s preternaturally dangerous out of stop-and-start plays. He explodes off of his edges and creates easy separation. When he does, he wastes no time moving into the slot.
He knows where goals are scored, and all of his attacks are funneled there. By the time he was 15 years old, he already had an “office” as though he were Alex Ovechkin.
His office is different from Ovi’s. He doesn’t station himself in the faceoff circle. Instead, he sets up camp on the goal line or below the right circle. He waits for opportunities to attack the slot. And when they don’t appear for him, he creates them.
I expect a creative coach to use him as their net frontman on the power play. Despite the rumors, Michkov is incredibly competitive. And he will pay a heavy price for the rush of scoring a goal. Besides that, he can also play make from the goal line and take low-angle one-timers inspired by Leon Draisaitl.
He’s also excellent at rotating with his wall man, making him a dangerous hybrid option.
You won’t be able to watch a Michkov highlight video without finding some occasion in which he’s flattened to the ice, yet still manages to score the goal first.
Michkov loves violence, and despite his size, he’s one of the better puck protectors of this draft class.
Michkov was 180 pounds at 5’10” for his draft season, despite the hilariously outdated listings that showed him at 148 pounds or something. He has a strong base and fantastic balance, both of those traits will only become more dangerous as he develops physically.
Like Kirill Kaprizov or Nathan MacKinnon, I expect plenty of Crosby-esque puck protection sequences. Size be damned.
And he isn’t just a goal scorer, either. In fact, I think his primary area for development is remembering that he’s a truly world-class playmaker and using that threat at all times. Right now, it’s a mode that he turns on and off.
Here’s what it looks like when that mode is “on.”
It’s always been impossible for me to watch Matvei Michkov play and think anything but: “Something special is happening.”
He’s a prodigy in the truest sense of the term. It all starts with his mind. His hands manage to keep pace with his mind. And his edges make him maneuverable enough that he can be in a position to fulfill all of his crazy ideas.
Matvei Michkov is a generational talent.
I have been convinced of that for a long time before he ever put on a Flyers jersey. In fact, it was laughable to me that someone of a talent this epic would ever fall to 7. But it has happened before, more or less.
Jaromir Jagr fell to 5 and Peter Forsberg fell to 6. Nobody could believe that Peter Forsberg would be as good as Eric Lindros, but he ended up with (marginally) more points in (marginally) fewer games for his NHL career.
Flyers scouts knew at the time. They felt lucky to have drafted Forsberg, and they didn’t want to include him in the Lindros trade that shook the hockey world to its core. At the end of the day, it was either him or an established NHL warrior like Rod Brind’amour.
They needed the Lindros trade for commercial reasons. To make it obvious that their next franchise star had arrived after a series of miserable seasons. Fans didn’t understand as readily that Forsberg was that guy.
I want to make that obvious now. The misery of the last 2 seasons has paid off. Philly has got their game-breaker.
The Flyers won’t be trading Matvei Michkov for Connor Bedard this time around. And they won’t need to.
A cursory look at the records he smashed combined with a simple viewing of the tape can confirm: Matvei Michkov is a generational talent.
Mandatory Credit: George Walker IV - staff, AP