Drafting Russian players, right now, is a gamble. There is no doubt that Russians are skilled hockey players. All one has to do is look at the great Alex Ovechkin and see the proof of that; as well as many other talented Russian players over the last 30 years. And the Philadelphia Flyers, sitting at number seven in the NHL draft, could have an intriguing prospect fall to them. But is it worth the risk?
Matvei Michkov is one of the best and highly regarded prospects in this years NHL Draft class. He has been projected as high as number two, but also has been falling; depending on what source you are looking at. The problem is NOT with his skills…it’s with his country and the uncertainty that that brings with it.
Michkov is 18 years old, 5’10”, and 175 lbs. He predominately plays center and left wing for Sochi HC in the KHL after playing in parts of two seasons for St. Petersburg SKA. This season, he scored nine goals and 11 assists for Sochi in 27 games; however his play was limited after missing two months due to injury. During the 2021 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, he scored eight goals with five assists in five games.
As far as skills go, he is widely regarded as a great shooter; in fact he has been rated as possibly the best shooter not named Connor Bedard in this draft. He may not be fast and speedy, but he is quick to maneuver and is very agile. And he has drawn comparisons to players like Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby.
He is considered to be the top European skater, if not for Leo Carlsson. It is believed that the Montreal Canadiens are really high on him, with the fifth overall pick, and would love to pair him up with last year’s top pick, Juraj Slafkovsky.
So what is the issue with him? Why would he slip out of the top five? And if he does, why should the Flyers be wary?
Well, it is all political. Russia is involved in a war with Ukraine. That has had a lot of repercussions in many aspects. Among them is in the sporting world as many sports have banned or considered banning Russian athletes in protest. While the NHL hasn’t, you have seen a movement to keep Russian players home in the Motherland.
The Flyers know this all too well with the Ivan Fedotov saga of last summer. Granted, his case is different. Fedotov played for CSKA Moscow, the Russian Army team. Michkov plays for Sochi. He is also under KHL contract until 2025-26. That could be hard to bring him over to North America; especially if geopolitical issues continue.
Michkov is a very talented prospect and if he falls to seventh, Daniel Briere should do his due diligence. He could be a top end playmaker. He could also be a wasted draft pick if he can’t come over and play. That is something the Flyers cannot afford right now.
Drafting any player is a gamble. Nolan Patrick was thought to be a can’t miss pick. But with the state that the Flyers are in now, they should focus on a player that has a better chance of coming to the US and performing than one whose future is very much in doubt.
Interestingly enough, the last time the Flyers held the seventh pick, they selected Ivan Provorov, a Russian. Philadelphia also has a complicated history when it comes to Russians. Only 28 players of Russian descent have been drafted by the Flyers. The last one selected with a first round pick was German Rubtsov.