Matvei Michkov was four days from being 10 months old when Alex Ovechkin made his NHL debut in October 2005.
The hype for prospects at the top of a draft class in any sport often wades too far into hyperbole, but when someone says Michkov is the best Russian prospect since Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin were selected in 2004, there’s a pretty compelling argument that it is true . Michkov is certainly the most hyped, and the most accomplished.
Nail Yakupov and Andrei Svechnikov are the only Russians selected in the top two since 2004, and both of them played in the Ontario Hockey League in their draft eligible seasons. And neither garnered anything close to Michkov’s hype.
The San Jose Sharks have the No. 4 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. If there weren’t well-covered concerns about when Michkov will play in the NHL, the Sharks would probably have no chance to select him.
Read more: 2023 NHL Draft current comparables: Why Connor Bedard is similar to David Pastrnak
As it stands, the Sharks are the first potential answer for where Michkov will land, which will be the biggest question on June 28 in Nashville. He’s the biggest wild card in this draft, and arguably the biggest one in any draft in quite some time.
We’ve already made the case for San Jose’s other best options at No. 4, Swedish center Leo Carlsson and American center Will Smith. The choice for the Sharks is likely to be simple — the center that Columbus doesn’t take at No. 3 or the Russian winger who is a wizard with the puck on his stick?
It’s time to make the case for Michkov.
Michkov was born in Perm, which is about 875 miles east of Moscow and on the western side of the Ural Mountains. He joined the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl organization for a couple of seasons before moving on to SKA Saint Petersburg in 2020.
An injury delayed the start of this past season for Michkov, and a lack of a defined opportunity with the KHL club led SKA to loan him to HC Sochi.
Michkov has been discussed as the potential top player in this draft class dating back at least two years. He and Connor Bedard both emerged as phenoms with astounding resumes well before their peers.
Both draft experts at The AthleticCorey Pronman and Scott Wheeler, recognized Michkov as a top-two player in the class along with Bedard in their first looks at the group in 2022. Adam Fantilli’s incredible Hobey Baker-winning season at Michigan has made him a near-consensus pick at No. 2 behind Bedard, though Pronman had Michkov second in one rankings update during the season and Wheeler moved him back to that spot in his final rankings.
There are two significant hurdles for every team that considers drafting Michkov. He is signed with SKA through the 2025-26 season — that’s three more years, at a minimum. The other is the uncertainty of what will happen geopolitically as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues.
Russia’s war has kept Michkov from participating in each of the past two IIHF world junior championships and both the most recent U18 worlds and Hlinka Gretzky
Some of these numbers are straight out of a video game. Michkov had 70 goals in 26 games for Lokomotiv’s U16 team when he was 15. He had the most goals and points ever by a 16-year-old in the MHL, which is Russia’s top junior league. He had 38 goals and 56 points in 56 games (Nikita Kucherov had 29 goals and 54 points in 53 contests).
That’s also more goals than any 17-year-old has had in the league, and his age-17 season is third. He had 30 goals … in 28 games, then 13 more in 17 playoff contests.
Michkov scored 12 goals in seven games at the U18 world championships as a 16-year-old. Ovechkin was 14 at the same age but in eight games.
This past season, he had 10 goals in 12 games in the VHL, which is like Russia’s version of the AHL. Then he had nine goals and 20 points in 27 games for Sochi, leading the club in scoring after his arrival. His 0.74 points per game with Sochi is the most in the KHL by a draft eligible player.
Michkov won gold medals at the Youth Olympic Games in 2020 and the Hlinka Gretzky tournament in 2022. He had the most goals and points in both tournaments.
He was the MVP of the U18 world championships in 2021, even though Russia lost in the final and settled for silver.
The Athletic‘s Corey Pronman: 3
The Athletic‘s Scott Wheeler: 2
FLOHockey’s Chris Peters: 4
TSN’s Craig Button: 4
Daily Faceoff: 3
FC Hockey: 3
McKeen’s Hockey: 5
Smart Scouting: 3
What the experts say
Button: Michkov has that dynamic, what I’d call striker’s ability. Scoring is a hard thing to do in this league. After Bedard, I think Michkov is the next best goal scorer. Like a striker, he just shows up in the right spots and arrives at the right times. He can make something out of seemingly nothing. The offensive mind is just brilliant.
Pronman: He has truly special offensive skill and hockey sense. His mind operates differently from other players in how he sees the play develop and he always seems to find ways to figure into scoring chances despite not being the biggest or fastest. His mind is special, but he’s freakishly skilled with the puck too, and can make elite stickhandling plays seem routine.
Wheeler: He’s a rare kind of player where he’s got A-grade tools across the board but he’s also got an efficiency to his attacking that is incredibly rare for a skilled player (especially one his age). He’s not the hardest-working player defensively, nor the fastest skater, but he always seems to be lurking around the play (and the puck) anyway and his skill level pops from there.
The case for Michkov
There aren’t many chances to take a potential superstar with the No. 4 pick, though Mitch Marner in 2015 and Cale Makar in 2017 certainly qualify. The case for Michkov is actually quite simple — he would be the player with the highest upside, and he has the potential to be one of the best players in the sport.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of risk involved. Michkov’s floor as an NHL player is probably lower than Carlsson’s and Smith’s, and then there’s the chance that he stays in the KHL past this contract.
The risks as a player are that his size and lack of elite skating ability hinder his ability to dominate games offensively. Or that the rest of his game doesn’t develop enough and he ends up as a guy who helps both teams score. Or that injuries become an issue.
At some point for some team, the potential will outweigh the risks though. Why could that team be the Sharks?
Some general managers would worry that Michkov won’t be in the NHL before he loses the job. Well, Grier just completed his first season, and should have about as much job security as anyone in that role. If Grier’s not certain he does, his superiors should tell him he does to remove that concern from this process.
Some teams will balk because three years is a long time to wait. Well, it’s probably going to be two years for Smith, and it could be two for Carlsson. And even then, will either of them be expected to be an impact player in Year 3, or just a rookie/second-year guy trying to build his way up to that level?
Are the Sharks going to be a Stanley Cup contender in 2025-26? It’s reasonable for them to want to be a playoff contender that year, but it could be possible to do that without the No. 4 pick from this draft.
It’s possible that Michkov arrives in the fall of 2026 and has a Kirill Kaprizov/Artemi Panarin-like impact. That season is the first after Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s contract expires. It’s the last year of the deals for Logan Couture and Erik Karlsson, whether they are still on the team or some part of the money was retained in a trade.
Not having the No. 4 pick as a contributor might lower the probability of success for the 2024-25 and 2025-26 teams slightly, but Michkov could change the ceiling of whatever franchise drafts him for the next decade after that.
(Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)