Scout’s Analysis: On Matvei Michkov and developing a prospect in Russia

Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Matvei Michkov joins Sean Reynolds to discuss if there were any frustrated emotions falling down to the seventh pick, why he's excited to join his new team and how he'll prepare himself for his debut in the NHL.

Most NHL teams have a similar approach when it comes to draft strategy, especially in the first round. Taking the “best available player” provides the drafting club an asset that can be nurtured over time, or becomes a valuable trade chip for future transactions.

That’s the approach the Philadelphia Flyers took when they selected Russian forward Matvei Michkov seventh overall at the 2023 draft, despite the inherent risks that came with selecting a player who has a KHL contract with SKA St. Petersburg through the 2025-26 season. Michkov isn’t likely to arrive in North America until the 2026-27 season, but the Flyers believe in the prospect and felt fortunate that he fell to them in the draft.

Now, both the patience of the Flyers and Michkov himself will be tested through this next stage of the development process, with him still in Russia.

There was plenty of attention on this situation over the weekend, when Michkov was made a healthy scratch for St. Petersburg’s first two regular season games. Interestingly, one of the top prospects for the 2024 NHL draft, Ivan Demidov, did get into the lineup.

This is part of the risk that Philadelphia took on, and here’s what I’m making of it…

Flyers prospect outlook

For the first time in forever the Flyers have indicated they need to rebuild their team through the draft. Here’s a look at their draft board for the next three cycles:

Image via CapFriendly

The Flyers have some high-end prospects in their pipeline. Cutter Gauthier (fifth overall in 2022) projects as a power-style, goal scoring winger who should slot into their top six forward group in time and could end up on their top line as he matures.

Philadelphia also added defenceman Oliver Bonk (22nd overall), goalie Carson Bjarnason (51st) and forward Denver Barkey (95th) at the most recent draft in Nashville. (Bonk and Barkey both play for the London Knights in the OHL).

Control over development

What separates this list of prospects from Michkov is the amount of control the Flyers have over their development. It’s much easier for Philly’s development staff to monitor, meet with, and recommend direction to prospects developing anywhere but in Russia.

It should be noted that college players, like Gauthier, do have more control over their final destination compared to prospects selected out of major junior (like Bonk and Barkey).

It’s highly unlikely in Gauthier’s scenario, but there have been several examples of college prospects electing to not sign with the team that selected them in the draft. They have the option of staying in school, graduating, and becoming a free agent instead of signing with the team that drafted them. Some NHL clubs elect to trade the prospect’s rights before he enters his senior year at school, essentially trying to get any kind of return on their initial investment. Again, though, that’s unlikely to be the case with Gauthier.

Michkov scouting report

• SKA is experimenting playing Michkov at centre instead of the wing. He has traditionally been known as a winger and the move to the middle is a heavy lift at the pro level.

• In the buildup to the KHL regular season, Michkov enjoyed some success and played to his offensive identity. He produced in games versus teams like the Russian U23 squad, and Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg.

• Here’s a clip of his goal versus “AY.” It isn’t a work of art, but the puck ends up in the back of the net. Michkov finds a path to the crease, skating past four “AY” defenders in the process.

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• As his pre-season rolled along, Michkov’s ice time fell off dramatically, averaging just over eight minutes of ice time per game. He was also taken off the second power play unit for SKA. He doesn’t kill penalties.

• In his final “audition” for a role, Michkov suited up in SKA’s pre-season game versus Severstal Cherepovets on Aug. 26, but he didn’t see the ice until there were three minutes left in the first period. He ended the first period with two total shifts at even strength.

Michkov was deployed at even strength in the second period and skated five shifts. He was used only twice in the third period, with both shifts coming at even strength. 

• When pucks slid behind defenders and below the hash marks in the offensive zone, Michkov continued to display elite puck touch and playmaking ability. He’s slippery and creative. His hockey sense, making himself available in high-danger areas in the offensive zone, is fantastic. The puck seems to find him when the play moves into prime scoring areas of the ice.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t used consistently enough so his overall impact was sporadic.

• An area of concern when playing Michkov in the middle is his zone exits offensively and defensively. He isn’t a burner in open ice so when he is late exiting the offensive zone, he has a long way to track back to defend.

The same can be said when he finds himself below the goal line in his own zone. He works to join the rush as an extra layer, but lags behind the play, at times, due to the amount of ice he has to make up to catch up with the sequence. 

Here is an example of a shift (early in the pre-season versus Sochi) that starts in the offensive zone, eventually tracking back to the defensive zone. At the beginning of the shift SKA has around 10 seconds to establish themselves at the end of their power play. Once Sochi returns to even strength, Michkov has to identify getting high in the zone and above the play. His zone exit is late. Once he arrives in the defensive zone his lack of detail is exposed, eventually leading to a turnover and a scoring chance against.

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Playing centre is clearly a work in progress for Michkov. He needs time to adjust. It’s my opinion that shifts like these led his coaching staff to scratch him for the first games of the regular season.

Ivan Demidov on the rise

Michkov was clearly in competition with potential top three 2024 draft prospect Ivan Demidov throughout training camp with SKA. Demidov has won a spot on the roster to start the season and he deserves the opportunity. 

Demidov is a different player than Michkov. He’s a play driver off the rush who brings a combination of size, speed, and skill. He extends plays along the wall and has more push-through in the trenches. Michkov has better puck touch and the ability to find “quiet” ice in the offensive zone. Demidov seems to always be around the play. 

It’s early in the season. Things could certainly change, but Demidov has had more shift-to-shift impact to start the year. 

Conclusion on Michkov

• Things are going to take time. Michkov is attempting to move to a new position at the highest level of pro hockey in Russia. It’s not going to be easy.

• His skating, out of the gate and in open ice, should improve as he matures. He’s still young and has loads of room to add more leg strength and explosiveness. It will make him more of a threat off the rush, and assist with better jump to space defensively.

• When he has the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, it’s clear he has high-end puck touch, vision and skill. I don’t have any concerns with his projection skill wise.

• Michkov needs to play more minutes. Sitting in the press box, or playing less than eight minutes per game, while attempting to play a new position at the pro level is a nearly impossible task for a still-developing player.

• It appears to me that being loaned out to a lesser team in the KHL should be considered. When he was loaned to Sochi last season he scored nine goals and 11 assists in 27 games and played to his identity. He was deployed at even strength and on the power play. He needs minutes, so a return to Sochi might make sense.

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The Noise

I’ve read, or heard, wide ranging opinions about Michkov as a teammate.

Some suggest he is selfish, hard to coach, or generally a difficult teammate who borders on impossible to tolerate.

Other reports suggest the opposite and, in my opinion, provide a more realistic view on the player. They include feedback from coaches and players who describe Michkov as an elite talent who is simply maturing — not a bad person or teammate.

For context, I suggest putting yourself in his skates for a day or two. He has been coddled as a player his entire youth because he’s likely been the best player on his team since a very young age. For that reason, he probably needs to be “coached up” to understand pro hockey is full of “the best players growing up” from all corners of the world. He’s not a unicorn.

Now factor in the tragic, suspicious, death of his father last spring. I can only imagine how difficult it has been off the ice for Michkov and his family.

Let’s not throw rocks at glass houses. We coddle our “best” players in North America the same way. We’ve all seen the craziness that surrounds youth hockey and the misguided ambition(s) of overzealous parents, coaches and organizations.

Michkov’s journey to Philadelphia will be flush with challenges over the next several seasons. Flyers fans will lose patience at times. There will be several highs and lows until the 2026 season arrives.

This journey will require patience and perspective. Michkov is 18 years young. He has time on his side.

Hopefully he finds a home with one team that’s willing to give him a chance to play to his strengths and work through his weaknesses.

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