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MCKEEN’S VIDEO REVIEW: MATVEI MICHKOV – Early WJC Performance Display Special Traits

With the 2022 NHL Draft approaching, the McKeens video team felt it was prudent to analyze a top prospect for the 2023 Draft currently earning his minutes with the Russian junior team for the 2022 World Junior Championship in Matvei Michkov. This tournament is the first major public glimpse of Michkov at the U20 level against peers who are approaching three years his senior. In the early stages of this tournament, the team felt that traits of his game that make him truly special at such a young age were on display, and we’ve gotten a sneak peek into what is to come from Michkov for both this tournament, and the time remaining before he’s drafted. Coach Greg also took a dive into his game against Sweden to open the tournament which reinforced many of our findings.

FRISCO, TX USA - MAY 1: Russia's Matvei Michkov #17 skates to the bench after scoring a third period goal against the Czech Republic during preliminary round action at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship at Comerica Center on May 1, 2021 in Frisco, TX USA. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Greg’s Take:

Matvei Michkov is a 2023 draft eligible prospect on the level of Ovechkin, Malkn, Tarasenko, Kucherov, and Kuznetsov. If you need a quick image in your head, think of Michkov as a mix between Evgeni Malkin and Johnny Gaudreau. He broke Ovechkin’s record for youngest player to suit up for the National Team. He’s played KHL games on a team that routinely has the best roster in the league. They’re the NY Yankees of hockey and can acquire just about any player they want. Both feats are impressive, but what makes Michkov such a special player?

Going into this tournament, I expected Michkov to essentially be a pure triggerman, but there is plenty that goes beyond being a great shooter that allows great shooters to be great scorers. In my view, the biggest trait separating shooters from scorers, especially those who rely on linemates to create chances for them, is the ability to scan and constantly stay in open space. It allows you to make yourself a clean target for puck carriers, it gives you time to think about shooting or passing, and it gives you time to change angles on goalies or challenge defenders one on one. Taking pucks in a pressure scenario is far more difficult to escape from, especially if you’re an undersized scorer like Michkov is. Michkov’s ability to consistently find space around the ice to make himself a target was highly noticeable throughout this game, finding little seams to sneak behind Canadian defenses in the offensive zone, and sneaking into the neutral zone to become an easier breakout option.

In this clip Michkov (#17 White) folds under his teammate who is pushing up ice. This gives him a small pocket of space to work within. He then continues his route as the puck is lost and follows the play around the board where the puck ends up popping onto his stick. He makes the simple play then funnels towards the net. He then continues down behind the net and is an option for a cycle play at which point he’s been lost by the defense and completely alone. He then notices that the defender is going to shoot and heads to the net for a flash screen and rebound. The shot is blocked, but the entire clip shows quality habits that lead to goals.

In this clip Michkov funnels towards the net twice in quick succession. The first one he gets a rebound chance. The second funnel results in a forecheck opportunity.

Michkov didn’t show off his skill level a tremendous amount in the game, with one deke attempt in the neutral zone that could have led to a clean defensive entry can be problematic had Elliot Desnoyers not been going for a change while Dylan Guenther was in space for a controlled entry, but Michkov showed a tremendous ability to combine hands and feet together to basically play around with Cole Perfetti later in the game. He received the puck on his backhand, quickly pulling to a more comfortable forehand position, beating Perfetti with a small burst of quickness. Michkov baits Perfetti again, pulling back in the corner with his hands, stopping up a bit with his feet, then pulling the puck through him into open space, giving Michkov the momentum to drive behind the net and put the puck in front for Khusnutdinov. It didn’t come out a ton, and in my viewings in the KHL this year it hasn’t there either, but there’s a capability to link brain, hands and feet together to maintain possession and drive into dangerous areas. He may be a scorer first and foremost, but this was a strong chain of events that showcased a playmaking streak in Michkov.

Greg’s Take:

In the clip below, another impactful part of Michkov’s game is on display: his surprisingly good work along the boards. Before he even got there he showed off the habits that make him such an effective player. He found space behind the player and through the middle on the rush. He then funneled back towards his pinching defensemen and the puck popped out to him - which seems like luck, but really is something that consistently happens.

Later in the shift the puck is rimmed along the boards. Michkov again goes near the battle through the middle of the ice. The puck doesn’t pop out, but rather is corralled by his teammate. Michkov continues low and ends up in a great spot for a cycled puck. Once cycled low, Michkov collects the puck on his forehand side and threatens to get behind the net. The defender goes for a hit, Michkov then pins the puck to the wall and slips it out the other direction. Understanding the pressure, leverage, and working the wall is a skill most younger players struggle with due to not being there often since they are more skilled and talented. Michkov seems to be well advanced into this.

Greg’s Take:

What’s really tricky about Michkov is his unpredictable and opportunistic play. He’s got a quick release and always probing for space and the smallest of openings and chances. He can do anything at any time. He rarely goes back to the same well over and over. This is a mark of elite minds. They continue to grow and evolve as the game goes along. By the end, these players are the ones controlling the game and dictating the outcome.

He consistently is playing cat-and-mouse. Throwing the puck towards the near side as you skate at and below the goal-line is something that preys on goalies going into the modern RVH positioning. While you love these types of cheeky shots majority of the time, there are moments where the shots are just thrown wishfully at the net with little purpose.

Michkov again showed off his fantastic work along the wall. He positions himself well to receive the puck deceptively. He chooses to let the puck move across his body and work toward behind the net. The Swedish player had to drop his stick to avoid taking a penalty. He then kept his head up to read the play and cut back once the second Swedish player came to help. It wasn’t until the 3rd Swedish player came over that he was finally dispossessed.

If you look at the stat sheet, Michkov stands at 5’10”, which isn’t small by any means, but for anyone questioning Michkov’s intensity, there were multiple physical engagements from the start of the game to the finish that even I didn’t particularly expect. His first shift of the game, he goes after Owen Power. There were multiple engagements with Ryan O’Rourke, another sizable defensive player. He stepped up in the defensive zone to get into Ronan Seeley’s shooting lane and challenged him there. Michkov even stepped up and laid out a high energy, physical winger in Justin Sourdif during the game. If there’s any concern about Michkov’s willingness to chip in physically, those concerns should be pacified, even at such a young age on this stage. This, and Michkov’s sense of identifying and hiding in open space were areas that I didn’t expect whatsoever before taking my first really detailed look at his game.

It’s not all perfect with Michkov. I’m always wary of players who predominantly score to generate their stat line, but examining each case to find out why a player may rely on scoring is pivotal. On the one hand, Michkov’s pure quickness on his release is dangerous from everywhere, and that on it’s own can lead to scoring as it has for Michkov in the MHL to this point. Finding space with his remarkable off-puck hockey sense and giving himself the chance to get that shot off is definitely a great foundation to build on, and it landed him a pair of goals in this game. Going beyond pure shooting talent is important, however. I found that Michkov’s shot selection was troubling at times, taking low percentage chances off the boards and off the rush. At lower levels, these low percentage chances may lead to high danger rebounds, which could drive some assist totals for Michkov, but at higher levels, it may be a little less likely. In my years of tracking, the high quality shooters who shoot from everywhere include Oliver Wahlstrom, Alexander Holtz, and most recently, Joakim Kemell. These names that have been drafted all have had a somewhat bumpy road in their development, so we’ll have to be patient to see if Michkov can buck that trend. Michkov could be caught looking off passing options to take these low percentage chances in this game, but at times did show strong vision below the goal line finding Khusnutdinov for a scoring chance later in the game. Finding the balance between spotting pass options and good shooting options against great competition can take time, but I’m sure he’ll find that balance. Even if he’s more of a shooting threat in his career, he at least has a top tier release that will serve him from all over the offensive zone. One other issue I noticed a few times was that while there were moments of skill and evasion, Michkov’s quickness in his first couple of steps to create separation was a bit of an issue with the puck. Michkov’s off-puck play was impressive and there were flashes of close quarters skill, but escaping into open space in scoring areas could make Michkov all the more dangerous.

Michkov is consistently playing cat-and-mouse. Throwing the puck towards the near side as you skate at and below the goal-line is something that preys on goalies going into the modern RVH positioning. While you love these types of cheeky shots majority of the time, there are moments where the shots are just thrown wishfully at the net with little purpose. In the clip below you can see this. After giving a hit and knocking over a Canadian player, Michkov gets moving to take a handoff from his teammate and throw a puck on net as the goalie moves into their RVH post-play technique.

We see Michkov score a goal using some of the tactics he showed throughout the game. He comes off the bench on a change and quickly taps the puck to a teammate with more speed. He quickly follows up the play and stays in a good position underneath the level of the puck. Once it’s dropped to him, he quickly/opportunistically fires the puck at the net. A 3-point night capped off with another goal.

It is undeniable, even after one pre-tournament game that Michkov is potentially an electrifying scoring threat. His off-puck mind for finding space, looking for opportunities and making himself a target is high end and he requires constant monitoring from defenses. His shot was on display in this game. His skill and his ability to chip in physically showed remarkable promise. Assuming he’s on the Russian power play, he could be in line for an impressive tournament on the stat sheet, even if there are areas in his game that are still works in progress. Getting quicker in his first couple strides, especially when escaping pressure with the puck could make him a massive transition threat to go with his hockey sense and shooting ability. All this being said, in my view, had Michkov been born three months earlier, he’d be the #1 prospect in the 2022 Draft, and he could easily be a challenger for #1 next season.

If you’d like to follow Greg’s work more closely, where he explores some of the concepts outlined in this piece, subscribe to his newsletter here!