WINNIPEG — Imagine for a second how Ilya Mikheyev must have felt.
The sheer panic and terror that would come with having an artery and tendons in your right wrist severed by a skate blade. But also the fear and loneliness that would set in after surgery when you woke up in hospital, in a foreign country, several thousand kilometres from your closest family and friends.
That’s why Mikheyev’s camp is so grateful for the way Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas handled his freak accident last Friday night in New Jersey. Dubas went to great lengths to ensure Mikheyev was as comfortable as possible from the moment he left Prudential Center in an ambulance, to when he landed back in Toronto on Monday afternoon.
"Kyle went above and beyond his duty," Dan Milstein, the player’s agent, told Sportsnet in an interview.
That included not only spending the better part of three days keeping him company in hospital, but also going out to personally buy him clothes and other personal effects, according to Milstein.
When asked why he chose to stay behind with the player, Dubas credited his wife Shannon for the idea. They spoke in the aftermath of Friday’s incident — which saw Mikheyev lose a frightening amount of blood after being cut by Jesper Bratt’s skate — and Dubas’s wife pointed out that if roles were reversed and it was their son going through something similar in Russia, that they’d want every assurance he was being properly cared for.
So the second-year Leafs GM cancelled a scouting trip, cleared his calendar and joined assistant athletic trainer Jon Geller at the New Jersey hospital two nights after Christmas.
Once Mikheyev came out of surgery and got some rest, they filled the hours watching sports together. That included Russia’s 6-0 win over Canada at the world junior tournament and the Leafs’ 5-4 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday night.
Dubas said they probably watched more soccer than hockey, too.
Mikheyev is still getting comfortable with the English language — he understands more than he’s able to speak — and was really starting to find his footing near the midway point of his first NHL season. He had been elevated to the top-six on a line with John Tavares for that game in New Jersey and scored his eighth goal and 23rd point before having his night ended abruptly.
The 25-year-old is now pain-free and in remarkably good spirits, according to Milstein, despite being given a strict 90-day period of recovery where he’s not allowed to put pressure on his right hand while the tendons heal. That will keep him from being able to grip a stick or shoot a puck until near the end of March.
"I would imagine on the 91st (day) you might see him on the ice," said Milstein.
He’s been joined in Toronto by parents Natalia and Andrey, who arrived Sunday for a pre-planned three-week visit where they intended to watch him play a live NHL game for the first time. His girlfriend Kristina has also returned from Russia after spending time there over the holidays.
Mikheyev was delivered back into their care Monday after being discharged from hospital and flying back with Dubas and Geller. The Leafs maintained regular communication with the family throughout the surgery and everything that came afterwards.
It was a happy homecoming for the man affectionately known by fans as "Soup" or "Souperman" because of an interview he did earlier this season where he said that was the thing he missed most about home. His NHL experience has been overwhelmingly positive despite the challenges in front of him. He’s already garnered a cult following within the Leafs fanbase, too.
"He’s still in the pinch-me mode," said Milstein. "He loves it, he enjoys every moment of it. He feels that Toronto is his second home."
The agent has KHL free agents currently drawing significant NHL interest for next season and has made sure they’re all aware of the humanity the Leafs exhibited with Mikheyev, telling them: "You should know how Toronto took care of this particular accident."
Milstein has done a lot of business with the Leafs organization, dating back to Lou Lamoriello’s time running the front office.
He had clients Nikita Zaitsev and Igor Ozhiganov leave the KHL to sign in Toronto, negotiated a seven-year extension for Zaitsev with Lamoriello and then saw Dubas honour the player’s subsequent trade request by dealing him to Ottawa last July.
What Milstein appreciates most about doing business with them is the personal touches. The Leafs have senior director of player evaluation Jim Paliafito on the ground in Russia throughout the year and make a concerted effort to build relationships with players and their families through multiple face-to-face visits.
The way Dubas handled the Mikheyev situation took it to another level.
"I’ve been saying this since long ago: The Maple Leafs as an organization, the way they recruit is almost like college recruiting," said Milstein. "Many (other) teams would say ‘Yeah, well they can afford to do it.’
"But caring for somebody and treating people like this doesn’t cost any money. Showing support, showing you care, is about a lot more than money."