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Ilya Mikheyev’s debut season for the Canucks became even more impressive when details of his ACL injury came to light

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
11 months ago
$19 million can buy a lot of stuff, but when you’re an NHL free agent and that’s the amount of the contract you signed, it also costs, and what it costs are high expectations.
There were definitely questions in the air when the Vancouver Canucks inked Ilya Mikheyev to a four-year, $4.75 million AAV deal with a modified-NTC this past July. Prior to his signing, the speedy 28-year-old Russian winger had played just 146 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs over three seasons, racking up just 72 points in that span.
To say that there were doubts about the contract is fair, as were the doubts themselves. Mikheyev had shown himself to be both injury-prone and an inconsistent producer in Toronto, and GM Patrik Allvin was committing a big chunk of salary and term to someone who played at a position of organizational strength.
At the time, we pointed at some underlying numbers that suggested Mikheyev might be more than meets the eye, and wondered if he might transform into a genuine top-six talent upon arriving in Vancouver. We speculated that, if he could just stay healthy, Mikheyev might just be that rare UFA signing that actually lives up to his contract.
Well, turns out we were half-right. Because while Mikheyev has not stayed healthy, he’s still managed to live up to his contract so far. And, if anything, his brush with injury this year just makes his debut performance with the Canucks all the more impressive.

The Counting Stats

As has become the norm for him, Mikheyev’s stats look their best when examined on a per-game and per-60 basis.
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsPoints-per-Game+/-Avg. TOI
2022/23461315280.61+316:55
All situations
Mikheyev did not set any notable career highs in 2022/23, aside from average time-on-ice. His per-game production, however, matched his previous best from the year prior exactly, and his goals-per-game still had him on pace for about 25 over a full season.
On the surface, it looks like solid second line production, but there’s more to it than that.
 GamesGoalsAssistsPoints
2022/2346121325
Even-strength
While frequent linemates Elias Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko received top unit power play duty, Mikheyev was relegated to the lesser-played second unit, and his numbers reflect that.
So, Mikheyev’s overall PPG might have him tied for 179th overall, but the majority of players listed ahead of him played more on the power play, and more in general.
Despite missing half the season, Mikheyev’s 25 even-strength points still ranked eighth on the Canucks.
 GamesGoalsAssistsPoints
2022/2346123
Power Play
As we said, Mikheyev didn’t receive much opportunity on the power play, but still managed to contribute a little bit here and there. He added even less to the penalty kill, but it should be noted that Mikheyev’s pre-injury time coincided with the point at which the Canucks were achieving historically bad results while shorthanded.
Mikheyev didn’t stick around long enough to benefit from his squad’s resurgence on special teams.
 GamesGoalsAssistsPoints
2022/2346000
Shorthanded
There are a few other counting stats not listed here, but well worth mentioning.
Mikheyev was on the ice for 41 goals for and 36 against at even-strength, a goal-differential of +6 that still ranked fourth on the Canucks by season’s end.
And though Mikheyev set a career-high for average minutes, he still didn’t play an exorbitant amount. His per-60 scoring rate of 2.43 was fourth-highest on the Canucks and 39th highest in the entire league.
On that basis alone, Mikheyev’s production isn’t just top-six quality, it’s arguably top-line. Either way, it seems like plenty of scoring from someone who ended the season as the 144th-highest-paid forward in the NHL, and should put to rest most worries about his being overpaid.

The Fancy Stats

Mikheyev’s analytic statline might not look very encouraging, but there’s some very important context that needs to be applied here.
 Corsi %Shot ControlxG%Chance ControlHigh-Danger Chance Control
2022/2346.97%47.99%45.49%47.87%44.61%
From NaturalStatTrick, for even-strength play
Yes, Mikheyev’s fancy stats are well below the breaking-even point across the board and, no, that’s not typically seen as a good thing. But one has to remember that Mikheyev played his last game of the season on January 27. That was just days after Bruce Boudreau’s firing, and long before the Tocchet Turnaround had taken full effect.
Prior to that, the Canucks were one of the worst teams in the league, putting up historically-bad numbers in some regards and dragging the entire roster’s analytics downward. In fact, during that time, Mikheyev was one of the only Canucks to be on the ice for more goals for than goals against, which was notable given his “slightly-above-league-average” quality of competition.
From HockeyViz.com
Another “myth” that needs to be busted when it comes to Mikheyev is the notion that he just rode shotgun with Pettersson. It’s true that the two (along with Kuzmenko) found great success together, but Mikheyev ultimately wound up spending just 40% of his even-strength minutes on Pettersson’s wing.
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools, for even-strength play
And, sure, that time together did account for nearly 60% of Mikheyev’s points. But he still put up respectable numbers while playing with the likes of Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Curiously, the one player that Mikheyev did not seem to click at all with was JT Miller. Mikheyev played about 10% of his even-strength minutes with Miller but earned zero points in that time.
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools
Had Mikheyev stuck around long enough to experience the second-half of the 2022/23 season, there’s little doubt that his underlying numbers would have rebounded along with the rest of the team’s. Given the overall context of his situation, they’re fine enough, and certainly nothing to detract from his strong counting stats.
And we haven’t even touched on the most important bit of personal context yet…
 

The Story Behind The Numbers

We’ve hinted at Mikheyev’s injury a couple of times here, but the full story is really something.
The injury came as the result of a big hit in the corner from a Calgary Flame, as captured by our own Lachlan Irvine.
Now, the particularly observant among you might notice the datestamp on that tweet, which is September 25, 2022.
That’s right, Mikheyev suffered an injury way back in the preseason, and then played on it for four months before finally getting shut down for surgery.
And what sort of injury was it, you might ask? Oh, no big deal, just a partially-torn ACL.
In his own words, there was no medical malpractice at play here. Mikheyev insisted that it was his choice to play through it, and that there was no risk of further damage.
But that it was medically sound doesn’t make it any less impressive.
Everything that Mikheyev accomplished this season — including being the 39th highest per-60 scorer in the entire NHL — he did while functionally playing on one leg.
This, for a winger whose game primarily revolves around his speed and skating ability.
There’s really no two ways about it: what Mikheyev did this season was astonishing, really. It might not have done anything to assuage fears of his continuing to be injury-prone, but it at least offered plenty of assurance that, when in the lineup, Mikheyev will absolutely provide enough bang for his bucks.
And it also offers plenty of temptation to wonder about what he can do when fully healthy after an entire summer of recovery and training.

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