Rewards Can Outweigh Risks for Flyers with Michkov Selection
If you’ve seen clips or read quotes from any Flyers press conference over the last several years, there’s been a common theme mentioned in all of them. The Flyers needed to add more high-end talent.
There are many ways to do it, from trades to free agents, but the best way is to start at the foundation and the draft. When the opportunity arises, sometimes the best thing to do is take a swing.
Danny Briere, with his first draft selection as GM of the Flyers, took a swing for the fences. The Flyers selected Matvei Michkov at seventh overall.
You want high-end talent? You got it.
Michkov was widely projected to be among the top picks for the better part of the last year. If not for Connor Bedard, he may have even been the first overall selection. But the Russian prospect offered a potentially uncertain timeline that caused teams to be wary. Between the political climate in Russia and a new three-year contract extension in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg, NHL teams were aware that selecting Michkov came with risks or may not have fit their timeline.
For where the Flyers are, the risks are worth the potential high rewards. The potential three-year wait for him to reach the NHL doesn’t scare them. They are entering a rebuild. They have time.
“We know he has a contract for three more seasons,” Briere said. “But we just felt after watching him play and meeting him, we felt he’s a talent we can’t pass up. If we have to wait, we’ll wait.”
“I can’t say for sure, I do have a contract, but I’m hoping as soon as I can get out, I’m going to be coming over,” Michkov said.
Upon meeting with Michkov, twice this week – including a secret visit in Voorhees – as Briere told the media later, the young forward expressed how much he wanted to play in Philadelphia, how much he wants to reach the finish line of winning a Stanley Cup with the Flyers. That was the convincing the Flyers needed, and his desire to be a Flyer and come over to North America to play in the NHL sealed the deal.
“I really wanted to be drafted by the Flyers. That was my goal,” Michkov said through an interpreter on Wednesday. “To be with the Philadelphia Flyers is a dream.”
The “New Era of Orange” has a new face.
While you won’t be seeing Matvei Michkov on the ice at Wells Fargo Center this season or anytime soon after, the future is very bright for the Russian winger. He’s so well-rounded offensively – creative, dynamic, a playmaker and a scorer. He’s exactly the type of player that puts fans in the seats. He’s the type of player who can change the course of a game and take it over.
While playing for HK Sochi in the KHL, he scored nine goals and had 20 points in 27 games. The 0.74 points per game were the best by an under-19 player in KHL history, better than the likes of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Vladimir Tarasenko, Kirill Kaprizov, and Artemi Panarin. He was consistently productive, as an underage player, in a professional league that usually challenges prospects.
At the 2020-21 IIHF U18 World Junior Championships, Michkov went head-to-head with Bedard. The first overall pick in Wednesday’s draft had seven goals and 14 points in seven games. Michkov topped him with 12 goals and 16 points in seven games.
Simply put, players with this level of talent, playmaking ability, and skill, players with this high a ceiling, don’t fall to seventh overall.
It was also a trying year for Michkov off the ice. His father, Andrei, passed away in April at age 51. Michkov is dreaming of big things at the NHL level, both for him and in honor of his father.
“It’s important for me to finish the goal that my dad had for me, and that’s winning the Stanley Cup,” Michkov said through an interpreter on Wednesday. “A lot of the credit goes to my goal scoring to my late father. He taught me the different ways of disguising my shot. I think right now he’d be very proud and happy for me and all the work that we put in together and he’d be proud of where I am.”
When the Flyers were last in a similar situation, rebuilding during a five-year playoff drought from 1989 to 1994, they had the sixth overall pick in the 1991 NHL Draft, and used it on a Swedish prospect who ultimately didn’t debut until the 1994-95 season. That player was Peter Forsberg.
Forsberg was traded in 1992 in the blockbuster Eric Lindros deal. Forsberg would eventually become a Flyer in 2005-06, entering the twilight of a Hall-of-Fame career.
There’s another story that comes to mind in relation to Michkov. In the 1990 NHL Draft, Jaromir Jagr was a top prospect and ultimately went fifth overall to Pittsburgh. The Flyers had the fourth overall pick in that draft, and selected Mike Ricci.
The story is that Jagr told the four teams ahead of the Penguins that he would not be coming over from Czechia to play in the NHL right away. He told the Penguins he would be there the next day if they drafted him. Ironically, Ricci was also included in the trade with Forsberg two years later to get Lindros.
The Flyers are certainly hoping that this turns out to be their Jaromir Jagr story, the start of a career anywhere close to the level of Peter Forsberg, and provides the level of excitement that Lindros did during the electrifying years of the 90s.
And that’s what made this a risk worth taking. You don’t get to the level you want to reach without taking chances. The Flyers are taking a chance on Michkov in a variety of ways, from his overall talent reaching its ceiling to the surrounding landscape of his path to the NHL. But for a rebuilding team, the risks could amount to the greatest of rewards.
It will take time to see through to the finish, but the Flyers have the central piece of their rebuild. Now they have to build the rest of the future around him.
“My biggest wish is that I want to come to Philadelphia and I want to help them win a Stanley Cup,” Michkov said. “I know they’ve been waiting a long time for one. That’s my goal. That’s why I’m coming here.”
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.