For many reasons, you have to be careful when dissecting a player’s character, especially an 18-year-old’s.
First, think back to when you were 18. Chances are, if you were put under the microscope of the Draft, organizations, reporters, and fans could uncover plenty of examples of your selfishness and immaturity.
So have some grace, give kids a chance to grow up.
Second, it’s the Draft. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, put out directly or indirectly by teams jockeying for Draft position.
So as a reporter, if you’re hearing negative things about a teen’s character, it’s essential to parse what you’re being told – you have to know who to trust and who could be putting out smoke screens.
Also, corroborate, corroborate, corroborate your information.
It’s with all this in mind that I’ve tried to get a better understanding about why Russian prospect Matvei Michkov is dropping in the Draft. Thought by some to have first-overall talent, the San Jose Sharks at No. 4 could pass on him, as might teams behind the Sharks.
I spoke with multiple NHL and KHL sources to enlarge my understanding of Michkov.
There’s the public and undisputed information: Michkov has a KHL contract that expires in 2025-26. That’s a long time for an NHL team to not have a prized prospect under the organization’s eye.
Russia continues to war with Ukraine, an unpopular war with a large portion of the West. Since Feb. 2022, the IIHF, as a punitive measure, has banned Russian and Belarussian teams from international competition.
This is speculative, but could Russia or the KHL eventually retaliate by keeping Russian players in country, even beyond the expiration of players’ contracts?
Last May, goaltender Ivan Fedotov signed a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Flyers but wasn’t allowed to leave Russia because his KHL side, CSKA Moscow, considered an extension of the Russian Army, alleged that the Flyers’ 2015 seventh-round pick hadn’t completed mandatory military service.
That’s not exactly breaching a contract to keep a player in Russia, but there’s enough gray area here, you can’t blame a GM for being queasy about risking a lottery pick on Michkov. There’s legitimate worry about getting Russian players over to North America, especially when you’re talking about someone of Michkov’s notoriety.
For what it’s worth, Michkov has stated on multiple occasions that he wants to play in the NHL.
“It is my dream to play in the NHL one day,” he told NHL.com in March.
This brings me to the point of the story: There are whispers too about character concerns with Michkov. How real are they?
Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News alluded to these character concerns in January: “Scouts have started to bring up character issues with Michkov.”
Beyond that, there’s been nothing concrete, no details, at least stateside, about these alleged character concerns.
“I keep hearing character concerns. I ask, can I ask what they are? I get nothing. I get nothing of substance,” an NHL scout from outside the San Jose Sharks organization told San Jose Hockey Now last month. “Part of me thinks some of it is disingenuous, trying to manipulate the Draft. Like I’m sure Washington [at No. 8] would be very happy to have him come there.”
So is it all a smoke screen? Well…
That same scout, we’ll call him Scout #1, added, “There’s definitely a maturity factor there. I’ve asked some people that have met him, and they’re like, he’s kind of an asshole. I hear that a lot.”
“Cocky” is how Scout #2 described what he’s heard internally, in his organization, about Michkov.
“I’ve heard he’s not the nicest person,” Scout #3 told SJHN.
“Entitled” is how an independent KHL source described Michkov.
But again, any specifics?
“He would [get on] the older KHL guys if they didn’t pass him the puck. I mean he wasn’t wrong, but also that’s pretty ballsy for an 18-year-old kid to do,” Scout #2 said of Michkov’s very productive KHL campaign this past season. “You could see it happen live. Like PP stuff, guys passing him up for another option that doesn’t work out. He’d show frustration.”
He added: “You see it a lot from junior guys. Pretty unheard of for a guy at the pro level to do it at his age.”
That’s not the norm…but how bad is that?
“That’s where it’s tough because it won’t stop him from being really good,” Scout #1 interjected. “My experience with these guys is when they’re that competitive, they kind of mature. We all do, right? I do think he’ll grow as a person. I haven’t heard anything flagrant that he’s done.”
This isn’t the first time that this scout has seen a very talented prospect drop, then change the narrative about his character: “Phil Kessel had a lot of the same issues coming out. He went five [in 2006].
“Nick Schmaltz would be another one, Nick was immensely talented, slipped [to No. 20 in the 2014] Draft because of these issues, and I haven’t really heard any concerns since he’s been in the NHL.
“Brad Marchand, back in ’06, was like, man, this guy, kind of same thing, this guy’s an asshole. He’s chippy. He’s dirty.
“Now he’s like one of the ultimate leader-warriors in the league, and I hear wonderful things about what he does to mentor young guys.
“I’ve seen it where they get to NHL level, they’re surrounded by peers they respect.”
Scout #2 offered, “Fine line between swagger and arrogance. [Moritz] Seider had it and it came off well. Erik Karlsson had it and it rubbed some people wrong. [Trevor] Zegras had it and it rubbed people wrong.”
All said though, Michkov doesn’t sound like the best teammate right now.
Scout #1, who’s a big supporter of Michkov – he said last month, “If I were a Sharks fan and they pass on this kid, I’d be upset” – cautioned, “It’s tough. It is a team game.”
And not every character concern becomes Kessel or Karlsson or Zegras.
For every Erik Karlsson, there’s Ryan Merkley.
The San Jose Sharks took a chance on the top-10 talent defenseman, who dropped because of concerns about his maturity, No. 21 in the 2018 Draft.
While it’s hard to say how much Merkley kept Merkley from maximizing his potential, the Sharks gave up on the pending RFA in January, trading him to the Colorado Avalanche after three unremarkable AHL and NHL campaigns.
“Michkov, is he gonna probably put up the most points of anybody available at No. 4? Yeah,” Scout #1 mused. “But I guess you could probably find an argument, is he really the guy who’s gonna be one of our core guys as we try to pursue a Cup over the next five, seven, 10 years?
“He does play all offense.
“That might be the case with Michkov, [not sure he can be your No. 1 forward].”
Kessel, once again, is an instructive example.
Miscast as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ franchise player in his prime, the narrative around Kessel didn’t really change until the 27-year-old was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015. There, he blossomed as the missing piece for an eventual back-to-back Stanley Cup winner, but as their third-best forward, supporting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way – but it adds to the argument that Michkov, along with the heightened “Russian factor” and legitimate, if not disqualifying, character concerns – isn’t a slam dunk No. 4 pick.
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