Flyers analysis

What makes Flyers prospect Michkov a ‘spotlight player'

'We don't have anybody like him in the organization,' Briere said of Michkov

NBC Universal, Inc.

From watching Matvei Michkov firsthand and on video, Brent Flahr knew the talent.

But he didn’t know exactly what was behind the Russian phenom’s transcendent game.

The person behind the player.

When the Flyers hosted the 18-year-old prospect in Voorhees, New Jersey, leading up to the 2023 NHL draft, Flahr, president of hockey operations Keith Jones and general manager Danny Briere were all impressed.

“For a dynamite player, I didn't know what I was going to get, you hear some of the rumors,” Flahr, the Flyers’ assistant general manager, said about three weeks ago following Day 2 of the draft. “We spent a couple of hours, had lunch, and when he left that day, everybody — Jonesy, Danny and I — felt a real comfort level of the type of kid he is, how driven he is. … Like, he wants to play and he wants to be the best.”

Daniel Bochner would agree. The player development coach for SKA St. Petersburg has worked with Michkov for parts of four years. He’ll be working with the young winger more as Michkov, who fell to the Flyers at No. 7 overall last month, is starting a new three-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, Russia’s top pro league.

“As a teammate, he’s extremely competitive,” Bochner said Wednesday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. “So when you see him in practice, he’s going just as hard as he would in a game, if not harder. Sometimes other players may find that challenging, but it’s part of what drives him. He’s extremely competitive and that shows up all over the place.

“In my experience with him, he has great athletic character and he’s extremely friendly. He’s somebody that actually doesn’t like to be away from the rink too much, he likes to be at the rink, he likes to be practicing. He’s extremely competitive when he’s on the ice, but very friendly when he’s off the ice. Just in my relationship with him, a player-coach relationship, he’s very open to feedback, he’s very open to constructive criticism. He uses that as fuel to drive his practice habits.”

The Flyers were uncertain if Michkov would slide to them in the first round. He was the player of great mystery in this draft class, a surefire top-five talent with mesmerizing goal-scoring skills. But, because of the geopolitical landscape and his three-year KHL commitment, he was also considered risky business.

As part of their pre-draft homework, Briere and company hosted Michkov at Flyers Training Center. They welcomed his mother, brother, agents and close friend. Then, in a larger setting, including their scouting staff, the Flyers met with him again at the draft in Nashville, Tennessee.

“He blew everybody in the room away by how smiley he was, how he kept saying he wanted to be a Flyer,” Briere said following Day 1 of the draft. “That made us feel really good about the prospect of drafting him. … A talent of his caliber, we didn't think he would be available at seven.”

After Briere called his name at Bridgestone Arena, Michkov mentioned how he “really wanted to be drafted by the Flyers.”

“We grilled him, we asked him some really tough questions and we were satisfied with the answers that we got,” Briere said. “Now, you never know, you never know for sure, but we had a good feeling.

“Seeing the talent level of this player, we don't have anybody like him in the organization. We've talked for how many years now about how we've needed to bring more skill, more talent to our team. This was a great opportunity to hopefully develop a player that can play kind of that role for us.”

Bochner watched Michkov tear up the junior level in Russia. In 2021-22, Michkov ripped off 22 goals and 38 points over 22 games for the MHL’s SKA-1946 St. Petersburg. In 84 career MHL games, he put up 68 goals and 107 points.

At the KHL level, Michkov has 11 goals and 25 points in 43 career games. Playing on loan with Sochi last season, he recorded 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 27 games.

He doesn’t turn 19 years old until December.

“He has broken a tremendous amount of records,” Bochner said. “So he has been pretty dominant every stage of the way. … He just seems to be able to produce wherever he plays.”

The Flyers noted how Michkov is stronger than his 5-foot-10, 172-pound listing may illustrate. The lefty-shot winger was the second-ranked European skater by NHL Central Scouting, while The Athletic's Scott Wheeler rated him as the second-best player in the draft, behind only generational talent Connor Bedard.

Flahr called Michkov an “elite goal scorer and playmaker.”

“If you watch him on video, every time he touches the puck in the offensive zone, it's going to the net, there are things happening, he creates goal scoring,” the assistant GM said. “He has an innate ability, like Connor and these guys in this draft, to just make stuff out of nothing. Very few players in the world can do that.

“He loves to score goals. Like his celebrations, he reminds me a little bit of Pavel Bure as far as when he does score, he's always fired up. Fans are going to love him.”

Flyers amateur scout Ken Hoodikoff and seventh overall pick Matvei Michkov address the media at the NHL draft in late June.

As the Flyers embrace a rebuilding mindset, they were willing to take a swing on a talent like Michkov, who might not come to North America until 2026-27.

“He has a very unique skill set,” Bochner said. “Obviously he does have a lot of skills that are comparable to other players, but the package as it is and as he comes, is actually pretty unique.”

And there’s a real determination in the big moments. When the Flyers were courting Michkov, a question they asked him was would he be afraid to play in Philadelphia? Briere said Michkov confidently responded, “Absolutely not, I want to be a Flyer, I want to play in a hockey market.”

“I think that’s one of his strong points is he’s got obviously great athletic character, he’s extremely competitive, he wants to be the best,” Bochner said. “He prides himself on being a go-to guy, being a difference-maker. He’s what I would call a spotlight player. When the game’s on the line, when something needs to happen, some players sort of like to hide in those situations, where he sort of likes to be the guy that says, ‘Hey, give me the puck, I’m going to do something here.’

“He wants to change the force of the game, he wants to be that difference-maker, that ‘it’ factor to be able to dictate the terms of the game in his favor. He definitely has the ability and then he also has that character to want to be that type of player and that difference-maker.”

The Flyers believe Michkov will be worth the wait.

“We took a big swing, but we hope that this turns out to be a home run,” Briere said. “Time will tell, it's a little early, but we feel when he's ready to come, he could really be a difference-maker. That's the risk that we were willing to take, to wait a little bit to hopefully have a difference-maker on our hands.”

Subscribe anywhere you get your podcasts: 
Apple Podcasts | Youtube Music | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | RSSWatch on YouTube

Contact Us