Canucks forward Ilya Mikheyev is making the most of his opportunity outside of Toronto
Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
4 months ago
Ilya Mikheyev is getting an increased opportunity with the Vancouver Canucks since he left Toronto.
At 24 years old, Mikheyev signed a one-year entry-level contract with the Leafs back in 2019 to come to Canada after spending one year with Sokol Krasnoyarsk and four seasons with Avangard Omsk of the KHL. Mikheyev led his team in scoring in back-to-back years during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns, including an appearance in the Gagarin Cup finals.
Upon signing, the 20+ goal scorer was a hidden ace for Toronto, scoring his first NHL goal on his first shot on net and recording one assist in his debut. He followed that performance up with a total of eight more points in the month of October. Mikheyev was everything Toronto wanted in a bottom-six forward and more. His most attractable quality was his speed, which was most utilized on the penalty kill, and resulted in one shorthanded goal over his 39-game season with the team. But on December 27, in a game in which he had already scored, Mikheyev’s season would end prematurely due to a skate blade severing an artery and tendons in his right wrist.
Frightful injury aside, Mikheyev and the Leafs had a new problem at hand: contract negotiations. Mikheyev had rightfully played himself into a new contract, putting up 23 points in a 39-game season. However, with the likes of John Tavares and Auston Matthews eating up a sizable chunk of the team’s cap space, the Leafs were prepared to sign Mikheyev to a league-minimum deal and be done with it. Although that’s not quite how it panned out. Mikheyev soon after filed for salary arbitration, forcing the Leafs to settle on a two-year $1.645-million-dollar contract, and hereby writing the prologue for the two-year-long epic between Toronto’s management and Mikheyev.
For those unaware of the endless frustrations on both sides, the Toronto Maple Leafs 2021 Amazon released tv series, All or Nothing, doesn’t leave much to the imagination. If Mikheyev wasn’t brought in to speak with GM Kyle Dubas about goal droughts, the winger would be bringing up concerns regarding limited ice time. It was clear to see that just a year after a welcoming start to the team, Mikheyev had found himself on a short leash with the club in the form of healthy scratches, which culminated in Mikheyev asking for a trade, and Dubas flat-out rejecting it.
While Mikheyev’s opportunity to get out of Toronto happened a year later when he put pen to paper on a four-year 4.75 million-dollar annually deal with the Canucks during free agency, it appeared that GM Patrik Allvin’s recent acquisition had been pivotal in the Canucks winning the sweepstakes of highly touted KHL player, Andrey Kuzmenko.
Not only did Mikheyev’s deal set up the Russian trifecta completed by Kuzmenko and Canucks 2019 first-round pick Vasily Podkolzin, but it also marked a contract in which management was paying for future performance rather than past production.
Mikheyev didn’t have the opportunity to play top-six minutes with his former club, and the expectation was that he was going to be brought to Vancouver to do just that. In his first 11 games with the blue and green, Mikheyev has been playing as advertised. His speed is undeniable. With the Canucks’ new-look penalty-killing squad revitalized by placing speedy forwards like Pettersson and Mikheyev high in the zone, Vancouver has set themselves up to be an actual scoring threat down a man. Mikheyev is also playing shy of a point per game, recording four goals, four assists, and a plus-five ranking so far.
It’s not surprising with all the attributes that Mikheyev and Pettersson share in common like knocking their opponents off balance with reverse hits, elite playmaking, and passing skills, and nifty puck handling in tight around the net, that when the two combine on a line together, good things happen.
As a line, Mikheyev and Pettersson — along with Andrei Kuzmenko — have converted for eight goals, the most of any line 5 on 5. Both Mikheyev and Pettersson draw more penalties than they take and almost never record defensive zone giveaways. The defensive upside to both of their games makes them strong linemates as they round up the top four for on-ice expected goals.
Although Mikheyev has only been able to suit up for 11 of the Canucks’ 14 games because of a preseason injury, it feels like the 28-year-old is finding his stride in Vancouver, starting with some extended power play time. Mikheyev’s two power play points in 10 games already have him just three points shy of his career high in Toronto.
While the games played number may be a small sample size, it’s hard not to imagine what kind of a player Mikheyev can be by the end of the season. He can score both on the penalty kill and power play, find his teammates at the drop of a hat, and pocket loose change at the front of the net.
This is his first year of top six ice time alongside two prolific players in Pettersson and Kuzmenko, and he’s matched them stride for stride. His addition to the team serves as an excellent extension for Petterson’s shooting and passing abilities, gives dimension to the team’s special teams, and runs a much more skillful top-six lineup.
And tonight, as he gets set to face his old team, Mikheyev will be given the opportunity to showcase his versatility even more as he moves up to play with JT Miller and Brock Boeser as Bruce Boudreau tries to get that line going.
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