Flyers’ Matvei Michkov Extraction Teaches the NHL a Lesson

Danny Briere's effort to bring Matvei Michkov to North America changed the calculus for the 2024 Draft
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Round One
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Round One / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

It was a year ago when the Flyers were able to steal the second-best player available in the 2023 Draft with the seventh pick overall. Matvei Michkov was highly touted, well regarded, and projected as a sure-fire sniper, but there was a problem. He had already signed a professional contract with another team, and that team was in Russia. At that time, as today, the United States' relations with Russia were strained due to the invasion of Ukraine.

The Flyers were widely praised for taking the skilled forward. Pundits gushed over Briere’s moxie in picking up such a talented player. But since the Flyers were at the beginning of a complete rebuild, the talking heads decided it did not matter if Michkov would not see NHL ice until 2026. Everybody thought that Michkov was probably three years away with the Ukraine and Russian war still raging hot.  While Briere deserves praise for the pick, the real value was in the 360 days that followed the draft.

Briere's efforts to secure Michkov may have the NHL taking notice

Like in his playing days, Briere had a strategy and used skill and supreme effort to get the win. While Briere has yet to confirm it, the Flyers GM worked daily on freeing Michkov and paving the wingers' way to Philly.  Briere was doing this in the most intense international political environment since the USSR invaded Afghanistan. Under President Biden, the United States and NATO seem to be marching to a full-scale war with Russia. There is no handbook for this. There were so many potential pitfalls that could derail the deal, from the player, their agents, the team, and the US and Russian governments. Briere was able to run the gauntlet to get his player and it was a huge win for the Flyers.

But the NHL is a league that learns.  Even with a bad international political situation. teams in the NHL saw what Briere had done. It opened the door to Russia and forced teams to consider changing their approach for the 2024 NHL Draft. Had news of Michkov’s coming broken a month later it is possible that Ivan Demidov, another high-scoring Russian, slipped down further than fifth in the draft. 

Maybe Demidov slipped to twelve, with teams fearing he was three years away from NHL play and deteriorating relations between the US and Russia. Perhaps Demidov dropped only two spots to seven, where Ottawa was shopping its pick. Maybe the Flyers trade up if Demidov is still there. It is possible that Briere was hoping he could duplicate his 2023 mastery.  But news of Michkov’s arrival was out, and the world had changed. Suddenly drafting a Russian was not so risky.

It may be too strong a statement to say that Briere had changed the NHL in his efforts to bring Michkov to the US, but his work has been noticed and the league has reacted. Just remember, the last team who passed on Matvei Michkov was the Montreal Canadians. The fan base, embittered at passing up Michkov would surely not allow the team to skip over another high-scoring Russian winger. The Canadians did not repeat their mistake and snapped up Demidov fifth overall. Now the Canadians and the league will see if bringing over a star player from Russia was as easy as Briere made it look.