The Toronto Maple Leafs could have themselves a gem in Ilya Mikheyev
The Toronto Maple Leafs have had a lot of new faces create roles and identities for themselves in the lineup within the past year, but there is still a lot of unknown potential on this fairly young roster. One of the biggest question marks of this team is Ilya Mikheyev.
It was well documented throughout the summer that Mikheyev made a strong impression on Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. It is no secret that Babcock likes guys who know their role, and even when they aren’t producing points, are able to provide assistance in other areas of the game, and that was, and still is, one of Mikheyev’s biggest assets as a player.
Mikheyev went undrafted in 2013 and spent five seasons bouncing around the KHL, MHL, and VHL before gaining significant interest among multiple NHL teams this past offseason.
The 25-year-old finished with 23 goals and 22 assists in 62 games last season for Avangard Omsk, finishing sixth in goals and 20th in points around the league. (Stats courtesy of EliteProspects.com)
The most comparable player on this roster to Mikheyev is Zach Hyman in terms of his persistence when in pursuit of the puck and his willingness to put the defence on their heels whenever he is out there.
He is third on the Toronto Maple Leafs in takeaways this season with nine, and is currently third in GAR (Goals Above Replacement) at 2.3. (Stats courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com and NaturalStattrick.com)
While there can be a lot of unreliability when using GAR as a statistic, it does account for every offensive and defensive aspect, and is an easy way to evaluate the impact and individual value of a player on a team, especially a player like Mikheyev.
Mikheyev is currently third in rookie scoring behind Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson and Colorado’s Cale Makar with four goals and seven assists through 17 games this season, and is on pace for 52 points as a current fringe top-six forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This rookie class of players is generally weaker in comparison to recent years, and Mikheyev definitely has an opportunity to excel with his talent (Stats Courtesy of NHL.com).
I think that Mikheyev has a lot of raw potential and physical assets that, if improved, can make him a dangerous player in this league for a long time. One aspect of his game that has really translated well is his ability to quickly change gears and accelerate with the puck from gliding to full speed.
It is also worth noting that Mikheyev is one of the few Leaf players who has not received an overwhelming amount of criticism from fans this season, and probably because he does not make many mistakes. Mikheyev by no means is a flashy player, but the fact that he is so strong defensively gives him something a lot of the Leafs forwards do not take responsibility for on a nightly basis.
With the length of Mitch Marner’s absence being unknown after suffering an ankle injury Saturday night against the Flyers, the next few games are a serious opportunity for Ilya Mikheyev to earn himself a role on the top two lines and continue his pursuit as a Calder trophy candidate.
If Mikheyev continues to leave this strong first impression he is making as an NHL rookie, the Leafs could definitely have trouble locking him up long term come next summer.