Flyers feature

How Flyers prospect Matvei Michkov's rise was evident in ‘a title fight'

Dwyer coached against Michkov in international play before the prospect was drafted by the Flyers

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Gordie Dwyer saw the Matvei Michkov meteor in Lausanne, Switzerland.

It was careening toward stardom.

A freshly-turned 15-year-old had carved up the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics, leading Russia to convincing wins and a gold medal at the six-country event. With his nine goals and five assists in four games on the international stage, the Michkov hype was no longer concealed.

"That was my first glimpse of him and that talent," Dwyer, who was the head coach of Team Canada, said. "That first impression of him was impressive, definitely."

The tournament served as a launching pad for Michkov's ascent into a mythical-like prospect at the 2023 NHL draft, a player of great intrigue that fell to the Flyers at No. 7 overall last summer.

"I'm confident that Philly's got one of the top talented players of his age group in the world," Dwyer, the general manager and head coach of the QMJHL's Acadie-Bathurst Titan, said in a December phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia.

With Team Canada, Dwyer watched Michkov up close not only at the Youth Olympics, but also for a Round 2 in the 2021 IIHF U-18 World Junior Championship. That was when the Russian winger had a star-studded Canadian team — headlined by Connor Bedard and Shane Wright — on the ropes in the final.

Despite a game-opening goal and two assists from Michkov, Canada rallied twice to beat Russia, 5-3. Dwyer, as an assistant coach, and the Canadians left Frisco, Texas with gold medals.

And immense respect for Michkov.

"If you look at that game, you kind of compare it to a title fight, how the momentum would go back and forth, shift in and shift out," Dwyer, the former NHLer, said. "He was a threat every time he touched the ice. He was able to kind of push the momentum in their favor at times and we had the star power to be able to counter."

In the first period, Michkov pounced on a loose puck and laced it home for a 1-0 lead.

"It kind of put us back on our heels a little bit," Dwyer said. "The hype was real, he had arrived and he was obviously a very dominant player in that tournament."

Over 10 minutes later, Bedard evened the score with a dazzling backhander top shelf.

"That was our counter punch to Michkov and the Russian team," Dwyer said. "When you look at it, they’re special players. Michkov has been on the scene for a while internationally, whether it was the start of the Youth Olympics; I think his coming out party was at the under-18s, especially considering the fact that they had their own pool, we had our own pool and then we met in the final."

Not even two and half minutes after Bedard's goal, Michkov helped Russia regain its lead. From the slot, he flipped a pass behind his back to Dmitri Buchelnikov for the go-ahead marker.

"He's multidimensional, he's a multiple threat offensively," Dwyer said. "Even with a smaller frame, he's strong on his skates, he's got great edges, he's not afraid to bring his game to the net and play on the interior. And then just his playmaking ability, his vision, his positional awareness of where he was on the ice and where his teammates were at all times. He was obviously a threat.

"Those top players, they have a knack of arriving on time. He just always seemed to have that ability to find open space or to arrive on time, whether it's in possession or without possession. He makes other guys around him better."

Wright answered Michkov's primary assist with a goal before the end of the first period and Canada never trailed again.

A 17-year-old Wright scored two of Canada's markers and assisted another, while a 15-year-old Bedard finished with two points (one goal, one assist). The 2023 top overall draft pick, going six spots ahead of Michkov, had 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in seven games that tournament.

Michkov, 16 years old at the time, put up a tournament-best 12 goals and 16 points in seven games.

"What he did in that tournament was pretty special," Dwyer said. "Not only did he identify himself as a top offensive player amongst his peers, but he did it in spectacular fashion. How he scored goals — whether it was his wrist shot or his release or his cut-back and drive to the net. He scored a Michigan goal, he scored a goal between his legs from the top of the circle. ... For us, meeting them in the final, we were well aware of his talent and what he brought to the table."

With Cutter Gauthier's decision to pass on Philadelphia, Michkov has become the focal point of the Flyers' future. No Gauthier means the Flyers must stick a full-court press on Michkov, keeping the relationship strong with the 19-year-old prospect and understanding how much more vital he is now to their long-term vision of contending.

The Flyers certainly had a full-court press on Michkov ahead of the 2023 draft. As was speculated, Michkov dropped down the board because of a precarious geopolitical landscape and his three-year commitment to play in the KHL, Russia's top pro league.

General manager Danny Briere and company did plenty of homework. The Flyers felt comfortable taking a big swing on Michkov and waiting for his potential arrival down the road.

"We grilled him, we asked him some really tough questions and we were satisfied with the answers that we got," Briere said last June at the draft. "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."

John Tortorella discussed the importance of establishing the Flyers’ style of play as the team prepares for Matvei Michkov's arrival well down the road.

After a frustrating start to this season with SKA St. Petersburg, one of the premier teams in the KHL, Michkov was loaned to Sochi. In 39 games with the club, he has put up 35 points (15 goals, 20 assists).

And he has dealt with adversity. Michkov has battled a bad case of pneumonia, which cost him almost all of December and part of January. He has built himself back up, but still isn't quite 100 percent yet.

Michkov's most recent game provided positive signs for his progress and development. In Sochi's 4-3 win Tuesday over Vityaz Moscow Region, Michkov put up a goal, an assist, 12 shots and a plus-1 mark through 16:38 minutes.

It was a strong response from his previous outing in which he went scoreless, was a minus-4 and then didn't suit up for Sochi's next game.

Dwyer knows the KHL well, having been a head coach in the league for parts of four seasons.

"The KHL continues to make adjustments, continues to improve as a league and get closer and more comparable to North America," he said.

If Michkov fulfills his KHL commitment, the Flyers will see him in 2026-27. What might be some of the challenges for his transition from the KHL to the NHL?

"His skating is one of the areas," Dwyer said. "He's strong on his edges, but you want to have some separation speed to be able to create offensively in the National Hockey League. Outside of his skating, if that continues to improve, he's not going to shy away from the physical game, he's pretty sturdy, he seems to be able to handle that element, as well, of the game. I feel like the sooner he comes to North America, that transition will happen and I'm confident that he'll be a very good player in the National Hockey League."

As a teenager playing against men, Michkov has recorded 60 points (26 goals, 34 assists) in 83 career KHL games.

"What he's doing in the KHL at a young age is pretty impressive," Dwyer said. "It's not a highly offensive league, so the rate of production that he's producing at is substantial. I feel like the offensive tools that he has will definitely translate into a premier NHL player, I'm pretty confident."

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