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Michkov, Carlsson, or Smith? My First Thoughts

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Credit: HC SKA, Orebro HK, USNTDP

The San Jose Sharks aren’t getting Connor Bedard, but they’re going to get an elite prospect with the No. 4 pick.

We know the Chicago Blackhawks are selecting Bedard first-overall. The Anaheim Ducks are likely to go with Adam Fantilli No. 2. But the Columbus Blue Jackets at third-overall?

That’s where the suspense in this year’s Draft should start.

For the Blue Jackets, and the Sharks following them, it appears the choice should come down to the trio of Matvei Michkov, Leo Carlsson, or Will Smith. “Should” is the operative word – I’m also getting reliable intelligence that the Draft isn’t going to be that cut-and-dry after Bedard and Fantilli. We’ll see.

Curious about NHL odds for today’s playoff games? FanDuel has got ’em.

But let’s focus on Michkov, Carlsson, and Smith: Here are my preliminary thoughts on who the San Jose Sharks might – or might not – select from that trio.

I emphasize again that these are my initial thoughts, a lot can change from now to Jun. 28.

Matvei Michkov

I don’t think San Jose Sharks GM Mike Grier minds the wait for Michkov to come over from Russia, as long as it’s by the commonly-believed 2026-27 arrival date.

Grier said as much in his post-Draft lottery availability, specifically about Michkov’s KHL contract: “We’ll take in all the information and consider all the options. The good, the bad, and the pluses and minuses of all the players that will be options for us. It’s something that we’ll definitely discuss, but it’s not anything that’s going to take anyone off the table.”

Grier Happy With No. 4 Pick, Talks Michkov, Carlsson, Smith (+)

Of course, there are more questions about Michkov than his current KHL contract. It’s hard to say how Russian president Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine may affect Russian players in the coming years, but that arrival date to North America doesn’t appear to be set in stone and could be subject to forces beyond the Sharks or Michkov’s control.

There are also on-the-ice questions in regards to Michkov’s fit with Grier’s vision for the Sharks.

What’s Grier looking for? Compete, more than anything, followed by size, appear to be key ingredients.

For all of Michkov’s offensive wizardry, he’s 5-foot-10 with arguably average compete.

Now I’m not saying that will make Michkov DND – when we talk about these ingredients, it’s important to note that we’re discussing preferences and not dealbreakers.

Michkov has the offensive potential to overcome smaller size and an average compete.

Much like Erik Karlsson, another offensively-gifted skater on the slighter side and whose compete can vary, if Michkov is putting up 100 points, Grier isn’t going to complain.

So I think the Michkov question for the San Jose Sharks comes down to just how productive can he be, and does that make up for his on-the-ice deficiencies and off-the-ice question marks.

Will Smith

There was some presumption, when Grier revealed that his oldest son Jayden went to high school with Smith for a year, that this automatically meant that he would draft the fellow Massachusetts native.

I see it a different way: Good or bad, Grier might know a little bit more about Smith right now than the other GMs.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the San Jose Sharks select him, it could dissuade Grier, for all we know. It’s a double-edged sword.

I think Smith has some of the same on-ice questions that Michkov has. With slightly less offensive potential – but also a lot less off-the-ice questions.

Smith is a little bigger, 5-foot-11 right now though closer to six feet and with average compete. He’s also the best skater of this trio.

He’s a center for the USNTDP, but there’s also some debate if that translates to the NHL.

I don’t get the sense that Grier is going to draft No. 4 based by position, but everything else equal, a top centerman does have a little more value than a top winger.

Leo Carlsson

Carlsson, in contrast to Michkov and Smith, is 6-foot-3 and has shown more compete, while still oozing plenty of offensive potential.

Michkov is in a class of his own in terms of offensive potential, the closest in this Draft to Bedard, while Carlsson and Smith seem to be close to each other, just a cut below.

Of course, there are no questions about when Carlsson or Smith can play in the NHL, unlike Michkov, and there’s reason to believe that Carlsson’s size could help make for an immediate jump to the NHL.

I don’t think that matters to Grier though.

“There’s no expectation from my end for these guys to come in and play right away. I think some of the kids nowadays kind of feel like when they get picked early, they should play right away,” the GM asserted. “I use the analogy of Matty Beniers. [He] had a good college [Draft] year. But went back, played another year at Michigan, got another season of development and weight room time and all that stuff, and now it looks like he might win the Calder Trophy.

“It’s a man’s league. It’s difficult. It’s difficult to expect an 18-year-old to come in and have success and do the things they’ve done their whole life.”

Carlsson is listed as a center but played wing this year. The San Jose Sharks, of course, have history transitioning a big skilled winger into a center in Tomas Hertl. Carlsson is also considered a below-average to average skater, but no one I’ve talked to is particularly worried about that long-term.

Carlsson is the only player in this group who will be participating at the World Championships, so he’s going to get one more chance to separate himself from Michkov and Smith.

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