Since Alexander Ovechkin and Yevgeni Malkin were drafted first and second by Washington and Pittsburgh respectively in 2004, Russia has had other world-class players making the NHL but no other forward has come close to the super-star impact of this duo.
But this could be due to change in a few years as scouts have their eyes on 15-year-old scoring wonder Matvei Michkov, who was born about half a year after Ovechkin and Malkin had been drafted and is the dominant U16 player in Russia.
Of course there’s still some development to go through within the three years until he can be drafted by an NHL team in 2023 and show his skills at the World Juniors and against grown men in professional hockey. But the numbers and the skill on various videos have caught attention among those following the potential stars of the future in the land of the Red Machine who call him a young genius.
Already as a 10-year-old he left his first marks in the Russian media. Playing the Maxim Sushinski Cup far away from his hometown of Perm with a team from St. Petersburg, he impressed and was picked for his first interview on video.
Last season with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s class of 2004 he played 21 games in his regional league, the Open Championship of Moscow, and had 55 goals and 33 assists. No player has ever scored more goals in such a championship of the U15 age category and during the past ten years no player has scored more than 40 goals in this age group. (Ovechkin is known for having scored 59 goals in one season but that was in the U12 category.) He was also used in the class of 2003 where he had 7 goals and 3 assists in 7 games.
Here are some impressions:
His numbers have been equally impressive this season. Before leaving for the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, he accumulated 36 goals and 26 assists in 15 games. Neither in this nor in the last few seasons has any junior player in Russia been close to such numbers.
Also outside of club hockey he caught the eye. In the championship of district selects teams he shone for the Central Federal District Team. The team scored a tournament-leading 69 goals in eight games. Michkov scored 23 of these and had 12 assists making him involved in more than half of the goals.
Michkov hails from Perm and played much of his youth hockey in the city of one million people with the Molot-Prikamie Perm organization in the Ural – West Siberia hockey region. He was living in a region from where Kazakhstan is closer than Moscow. Until 2015. Then he moved 1,000 kilometres westwards with his parents and brother to support his hockey development closer to Moscow.
“I was invited by Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. They have one of the best youth hockey schools and it’s a KHL city. I moved with the family. It wasn’t very easy in the beginning but then it was okay,” he said.
Michkov doesn’t have the size of Ovechkin. He has been growing to 174 cm in recent years and will certainly add some centimetres and kilos. But he makes up for the body mass with fast and agile skating, smooth hands, a hockey sense far advanced for his age group and goal scoring instincts that makes hockey look easy when watching him.
The Russians outplayed Canada in the opening game also thanks to Michkov, who in his first official game with a Russian national team scored two goals and had an assist. A nice welcome present for the North American scouts, not so much for the Canadian team though that couldn’t come back from a 4-0 deficit after 13 minutes and lost 6-2.
By that time Michkov had paved the way for the Russians scoring two of the first three goals while preparing the 5-0 marker.
“We beat Canada, we played well and worked hard for this win. Of course we didn’t expect to be the beginning like that with four goals in the first period,” Michkov said. “We played disciplined, played as one unit. We prepared for a long time and wanted to win and we did it.”
While the size might bother NHL scouts the most, Michkov didn’t show any issues with the more physical play of the Canadians. He was present in front of the net and ready to score the “ugly” goals rather than in the more elegant fashion of the classic Russian hockey school. That makes him successful and popular in draft predictions for the future. He outshone another candidate for an early pick in 2023 with Adamo Fantilli in the game against Canada.
It was also his first game in an atmosphere with so many fans. “It’s a good atmosphere and nice to play here although there were more Canadian fans here,” he said.
Before the Youth Olympics Russian goalie legend and federation president Vladislav Tretiak addressed the U16 national team and warned them not to do the same mistakes as in the U20 final, to stay disciplined, not to relax during a lead and to avoid unnecessary penalties.
After their win against Canada the Russians were visited in the dressing room by another former Olympic champion and world-class athlete: Former pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, whose world record of 5.06 metres from 2009 has yet to be broken, is in Lausanne as a member of the IOC Athletes’ Commission and gave the Russian teenagers further inspiration to achieve goals that are (literally) set high.
The goal of the Russian is of course the first Youth Olympic ice hockey gold for the country and with the spectacular win against eternal hockey rival Canada it has been carved even deeper into stone and consciousness.
“That we end in first place and become champion,” Michkov said about his dreams in Lausanne. “We want to be the best and take the gold medal. That’s the main goal of our team.”
With a win or at least one point from a regulation-time draw against Denmark, Russia will win Group B and qualify for the semi-finals. The results of the two games leave little doubt in Russia that this will happen. In the semi-finals the Russians would then meet the second-ranked team of Group A, Finland or host Switzerland.