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  • Joshua Rosa

Matvei Michkov: The Player Behind the Contract


Image by Yuri Kuzmin, KHL


The conversation around Russian player Matvei Michkov has been dominated by the fact that he is under contract with SKA St. Petersburg until 2026. St. Petersburg is one of the strongest teams in the KHL and didn’t really have a spot for Michkov (there was a game where Michkov was on the bench, but got absolutely 0 minutes of ice time), and has since been loaned to HC Sochi, a team that is not very good.


Outside of this intro, I will not mention the contract. I don’t think that waiting on Michkov is that big of a deal. Prospects always need time to develop, and Michkov will get the chance to do that in the best league in the world outside of the NHL against men. Essentially, picking Michkov would guarantee a top star in the 2026-27 season, but I am getting ahead of myself.


HC Sochi

First, a little aside about HC Sochi. As previously mentioned, Sochi is not very good. They are actually quite bad. Their current record as of writing is just 6 wins in 50 games, and they are at the bottom of the standings, well below Kunlun Red Star, who have 18 wins. They just broke a 21-game losing streak.


Michkov generally plays with linemates Sergei S. Popov and Artyom Fyodorov. Fyodorov is a 29-year-old, whose best season came in 2019-20 with Spartak Moskva with 18 goals and 41 points in 56 games but has never come close to those numbers again. Popov played in the OHL from 2016-20 and has returned to his home country’s KHL to make his debut as a 22-year-old.


This is all to say that this isn’t the ideal situation for Michkov. Pretty much every night his team is outmatched, and his linemates aren’t exactly fantastic. Despite that, Michkov has been putting up great numbers in a professional league with 4 goals and 6 points in 10 games.


So with that out of the way:


Offence

If you draft Michkov, you are drafting him for his offence, no question. The only player that could hold their own against Michkov offensively is Connor Bedard. Michkov is fantastic at pretty much anything you can do in the offensive zone. His shot is elite, he has great hands and his movement off the puck is great. Despite being in a men’s league, Michkov is not deterred from the physical side of the game. Being small at 5’10” and 148 pounds, Michkov doesn’t shy away from physicality, especially in the offensive zone.


In a game against SKA St. Petersburg, Michkov knocked 6’9”, 220-pound defender Stepan Falkovsky off of the puck to gain possession. Later in the game, he knocked Marat Khusnutdinov off his feet with a heavy check in the neutral zone.


It's not just him using his body, but his willingness to get punished physically and get to the tough areas of the ice is impressive. He has a fun little stance while standing in front of the net raising his arms and shoulders to try to block the goalie’s vision, which I am not sure really affects too much, but it shows a willingness to get to the front of the net, and that directly caused a goal for him in a game on a rebound against Dynamo Moskva. And in a game against CSKA Moskva, Michkov drew in defenders Andrei Svetlakov and #42 into the corner and managed to get the puck to a teammate while getting hit.


Transition

Michkov’s greatest skill might be his game through the neutral zone. Throughout the multiple games that I watched, I cannot remember a time when Michkov wasn’t able to get the puck over the blue line. He has an unbelievable shiftiness in his skating and with the puck that makes it impossible to predict where he’s going to go with the play.


Michkov can stickhandle his way around any defender and can skate as smooth as silk through the neutral zone. There is just little to no way of stopping him from cutting through opposing defences. There are only so many ways of saying he is fantastic at this, but it cannot be overstated. He is extremely composed and can string together virtually everything and anything together to make opposing defenders look silly. He can toe drag, deke, head fake, and skate around anyone.


The only problem that Michkov has in transition on occasion is his passing. I wouldn’t say that it is a weakness, but it can sometimes be a problem. It all depends on the length of the pass. Michkov is generally good at making short passes into high-danger chances. His assist in the SKA St. Petersburg game is a prime example, where Michkov lifts a defender's stick and makes a good pass to set up a goal.


But there are many times when Michkov tries to force cross-ice passes that can lead to disastrous results. There are times that it does work, but it is much more of a work in progress versus the rest of his offensive game, which is as natural as anything. Early in that SKA game, Michkov forced a cross-ice pass at the blueline that was turned over into a breakaway for the opponents.


In my opinion, him seeing the potential of these passes, and being able to pull them off and pass pretty well on the backhand is a good sign. It points again to his fantastic offensive vision, and I think that passing skills are easier to teach than vision and hockey sense.


Defence

Okay, it's rough, I won’t lie about that. But I don’t think it is necessarily the black hole that many people are making it out to be. Yes, there are many times when you can see Michkov standing still in the middle of the ice without a clue on what to do, or lacking the resolve to do anything in his own zone. But there are occasions where he does show some defensive initiative.


I feel like I can see the wheels spinning in Michkov’s mind in the defensive zone thinking “How easily can I turn this into offence?” He loves trying to pounce on loose pucks or attacking the blueline when he feels there is a real opportunity to get an offensive chance, but if there isn’t that specific situation, he is as passive as anything.

The one thing I think he is good at in the defensive zone is blocking point shots. In every game I watched of him, Michkov blocked multiple shots and was willing to sacrifice his body in that way. The problem is, I think he knows that blocking shots is his strength and he bites really easily on fake shots which allows defenders to walk right around him.


Conclusion

Matvei Michkov is never going to be a good defender. Even putting in the effort, he just lacks the awareness and intuition in his own zone. But that is okay because he is so good at everything else.


Michkov basically gives you a free zone entry every time he brings the puck up the ice. His shot is elite, as well as his off-puck movement. He already has pro habits of attacking the middle and elite shiftiness with the puck. It's really hard for me to see Michkov not becoming a top-line elite winger in the NHL as soon as he comes over. To me, that is worth too much to pass over in the top 5. In my mind, Michkov is 4th, below Bedard, Carlsson and Fantilli. This is mostly based on Carlsson and Fantilli projecting as centres and having better all-around games than Michkov. But he is by far the flashiest and will be a star for years to come.


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