Toronto Maple Leafs: Will Ilya Mikheyev Revisit First Season Success?

Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs (Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports)
Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs (Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports) /

Toronto Maple Leafs winger, Ilya Mikheyev, enjoyed a productive rookie season in 2019-2020, but after a statistically disappointing 2020-21 season, many fans are hesitant about his future.

Ilya Mikheyev seemed to come out of nowhere.  Most Toronto Maple Leafs fans hadn’t heard of the 6’3″ winger when he played for his hometown, Avangard Omsk, in Russia.  Mikheyev was known in the KHL for his his excellent two-way play and earned a Golden Helmet during the league’s award ceremony after the 2018-19 season.

Winning a Golden Helmet in the KHL is similar to being named a first team All-Star in the NHL.  Mikheyev was ranked 6th in goals (23) and 20th in points (45) in the KHL that season.  Only three forwards are given a Golden Helmet each season, so it seems like a lot of credit was given to his defensive merit.

During his rookie season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ilya Mikheyev put up 23 points in his first 39 games.  That’s a great pace for a rookie playing mostly third line minutes.  Everything was going great for Ilya Mikheyev until he was cut with a skate blade in December 2019 leaving him with a severe laceration that severed an artery and tendons in his wrist.  (stats

Toronto Maple Leafs and Ilya Mikheyev

Ilya Mikheyev had an immediate surgery in New Jersey, and Toronto Maple Leafs GM, Kyle Dubas stayed with Mikheyev in the hospital for three days so he’d have someone familiar to keep him company.  This act of kindness may have been the reason why Ilya Mikheyev agreed to renew his contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs for less than what was expected on the day before his scheduled arbitration hearing.

Ilya Mikheyev wouldn’t suit up for the remainder of the 2019-2020 season and had a long break when the season was cut short and the post-season was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.  He would return for the Toronto Maple Leafs play-in round against the Columbus Blue Jackets but couldn’t muster a single point in their five game series.

Last season, Ilya Mikheyev suffered a sophomore slump only managing 17 points in 54 games.  It was frustrating to watch Mikheyev at times, because he seemed to have breakaways or favorable rushes every game, but just couldn’t finish on his opportunities.  He had the worst shooting percentage of any forward on the Toronto Maple Leafs to score a goal with 6.5%.

A lot of time has passed since his wrist injury, so it’s had to still blame the injury for Mikheyev’s slump.  There was a coaching change however and Sheldon Keefe has used Mikheyev in a more defensive role than Mike Babcock had.

Ilya Mikheyev possess a lot of skill.  He’s big, fast, strong and great at protecting the puck.  He can start plays in his defense zone and move the puck forward like few players can.  He generates scoring chances despite starting the vast majority of his shifts in the defensive zone.

It really seems like Ilya Mikheyev has had a run of bad luck.  Some players seem to suffer from the sophomore slump and maybe Mikheyev has the symptoms.

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I think the true Ilya Mikheyev will show himself this season.  It he at least plays as well as he did in his rookie season, he’ll earn an extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but if not, he may be playing elsewhere.