Matvei Michkov just turned 17 years old.
You’ll be reminded of that often over the next two weeks as he pulverizes teams night in and night out in Red Deer. It’s easy to overlook it because the way he plays, the way he acts and the way he dominates a game, he looks like someone with years of pro experience under his belt.
He can’t drive himself to the rink, but he can pull off the Michigan without difficulty on what feels like a monthly basis. And he makes it look easy, just like he does with nearly every other aspect of the game.
Michkov’s World Junior Championship debut — unofficially, since it was just a pre-tournament game — saw him score two goals while playing top-line minutes in a 6-4 loss to Canada. Russia has never been friendly to underaged players, no matter their talent level, but Michkov was easily one of the most dominant forwards in the game, regardless of team.
But even coach Sergei Zubov can’t keep him down.
Former Russian coach Valeri Bragin wasn’t too keen on giving U-18 players many opportunities for the men’s team. That isn’t unusual in Russian hockey circles: many top prospects only get a couple of minutes a game in KHL action, which isn’t really ideal.
Well, funny enough, Bragin is Michkov’s KHL coach with St. Petersburg, Michkov already has 13 KHL games to his credit with five points despite not playing more than 10 minutes in the past 10 outings. In the Russian junior league, Michkov has 28 points in just 11 MHL games, highlighted by a five-goal effort in his final game back on Nov. 20.x
Michkov only has one exhibition game to his World Junior Championship CV, but Thursday’s performance — plus his effort at the Euro Hockey Tour back in November when he became the youngest player to ever represent Russia in a men’s hockey tournament — makes it tough to believe Michkov will be anything but a standout for his country.
And it’s nothing new. Michkov had one of the best U-18 World Championship performances in tournament history, recording 12 goals and 16 points in seven games en route to a silver. He had a slightly slower tournament at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup in August, scoring just eight goals and 13 points before making his KHL debut in September.
Michkov has shown all year why he’s Connor Bedard’s biggest threat to go No. 1 at the 2023 NHL draft – a class with high-end talent up the wazoo. Michkov’s exploits on the international stage have put everyone on notice, and while he has a KHL contract until 2024-25, the team that takes him is getting a special talent. The team that selects first overall isn’t going to want to wait, but many scouts really believe Michkov can be better than Bedard. Patience will be key if Michkov is to play out the entirety of his contract in the KHL, but it’s going to pay off in a big way.
Why? Names used in comparison for Michkov by NHL scouts: Kucherov, McDavid and Ovechkin. There’s no real direct 1-to-1 comparison, but he takes a bit of each and uses it to create chaos. It won’t take much to find No. 17 on the ice — the television broadcast will make it its mission to know everything about him ahead of his NHL draft year.
Michkov is a superb talent, and easily one of the best since McDavid and Auston Matthews went No. 1 in 2015 and 2016. Bedard is, too, and he also scored in the exhibition contest, not to get left out. But if you’ve never seen Michkov play, you’re about to see just why he’s hyped so much, and why people have been raving about his dominant play for the past few years.
And, if all goes well for the young winger, Michkov will head home with a medal his country hasn’t achieved in over a decade — and then he’ll do it all again next year at home.