Toronto Maple Leafs: Ilya Mikheyev is a Worthwhile Risk

KAZAN, RUSSIA - JANUARY 20, 2019: Ilya Mikheyev (front) of the KHL Chernyshev Division plays ukulele in the changing room after a 2019 KHL All Star Game semi-final ice hockey match at Kazan's TatNeft Arena as part of the 2019 Week of Hockey Stars in Tatarstan. Yegor Aleyev/TASS (Photo by Yegor AleyevTASS via Getty Images)
KAZAN, RUSSIA - JANUARY 20, 2019: Ilya Mikheyev (front) of the KHL Chernyshev Division plays ukulele in the changing room after a 2019 KHL All Star Game semi-final ice hockey match at Kazan's TatNeft Arena as part of the 2019 Week of Hockey Stars in Tatarstan. Yegor Aleyev/TASS (Photo by Yegor AleyevTASS via Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Maple Leafs continue to turn to the overseas market in an effort to bolster their depth.

As has so often been the case in recent years, the Maple Leafs exited a hotly-contested bidding war victorious this morning, signing coveted free agent and KHL All-Star, Ilya Mikheyev, to a one-year entry-level contract that is set to kick in for the 2019-20 season.

The list of suitors that Kyle Dubas & co. beat out to secure Mikheyev’s services was reportedly about as long as it could possibly be. All 31 NHL teams were said to be in the running to lock down the 24-year-old winger, with Bob McKenzie mentioning the Chicago Blackhawks and Vegas Golden Knights as the final two poachers remaining in the hunt before the Maple Leafs ultimately secured their man.

Mikheyev is an interesting asset to bring into the fold. In spite of the KHL’s technological restrictions making game footage hard to come by, Mikheyev has nevertheless flashed his offensive potential at a number of international tournaments he’s attended in years prior, including this goal which is currently making the rounds all over Twitter.

Mikheyev’s highlight reel snippets should all be taken with a pillar of salt, given the typical level of talent at the Euro Cup. But the puck hounding tendencies and craftiness in close that he demonstrates, at least in this clip, all seems to align with a Dubas style of play.

The 2018-19 season was clearly a step forward for Mikheyev in every sense of his game. Posting a career-best 23 goals and 22 assists for 45 points in 62 games for his hometown Avangard Omsk, scouting reports additionally lauded the Russian-native for his penalty-killing prowess and strong hockey I.Q. The ability to make strong defensive reads will assuredly be an asset for Mikheyev as he attempts to acclimate to the smaller confines of North American ice.

Measuring in at 6’2, Mikheyev stands as one of the taller members of the Maple Leafs’ current roster, albeit that will likely change in the coming months. What he does signify, however, is yet another name in a long line of assets that the Maple Leafs have brought over from the overseas free agent pool.

Mikheyev’s cap hit for next season will be a scant $925,000. And for a team as expectedly cap-strapped as the Maple Leafs, locking down a potential top-six winger for under $1 million is the type of move to help alleviate that.

This is a gamble for Dubas, one that failed twofold last season with the likes of Par Lindholm and Igor Ozhiganov, and yet appears to have succeeded, after a year of development, with Calle Rosen. Nevertheless, Mikheyev is a young-ish forward bearing a multi-year track record of professional experience playing in what is considered to be arguably hockey’s second most challenging league behind the NHL.

If he can manage to play decent minutes in a depth role, Mikheyev’s price tag undoubtedly makes him a worthy roll of the dice. Not to mention, the single year of term on his contract carries practically no risk, either.

If Dubas wants to keep this high-priced core together, alternative options will be needed. In successfully signing Mikheyev, it appears that is exactly what he plans to do.

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