Toronto Maple Leafs winger, Ilya Mikheyev, has returned from the thumb injury that has kept him sidelined all season and has tallied three goals in his first three games of the season.
He was named number one star of the game after scoring the game winning goal in the Toronto Maple Leafs game against the Edmonton Oilers, and number three star after his two goal game against the Ottawa Senators.
The Russian speedster lovingly known as “Soup man” and “Cobra” by fans and teammates has suffered some significant injuries during his first three NHL seasons, but his worst ailment to date may have been the dreaded sophomore slump.
Mikheyev had an excellent rookie NHL season with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019-20 recording eight goals and 23 points in 39 games while receiving mostly third line minutes. Unfortunately, his amazing effort was brought to a halt when he suffered a scary laceration to his wrist. Mikheyev would miss the remained of the season.
I personally thought Mikheyev looked amazing in his rookie season. He’s a complete player, a two-way forward with blistering speed who is great at carrying the puck end to end. I couldn’t wait to see what he could do once he got a little more NHL experience.
Toronto Maple Leafs Ilya Mikheyev’s Sophomore Slump
The sophomore slump is a common phenomenon in the NHL. Maybe it’s just bad luck, but there could be more to it than that. It could be a psychological thing. When something starts going well in life, not just in hockey, people build confidence.
Confidence is good, but you can have too much of a good thing. When confidence becomes over confidence, it can lead to a lack of effort and mistakes. When frequent mistakes start pilling up, frustration can set in and over confidence can quickly become no confidence at all.
However, I feel that in the case of Ilya Mikheyev, the reasons for his slump were a little different than most cases. I don’t think his slump was due to over confidence, but he did lose confidence when he returned from his wrist injury and building frustration made things worse.
The severed artery and tendon in his wrist was a serious severe injury, and it really seemed to effect Mikheyev’s shot when he returned to the ice. He returned for the Toronto Maple Leafs play-in playoff round against the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2020 but went pointless in the five game series.
Last season, Mikheyev seems to do everything right but score. He was used in a more defensive role but still managed to create some great offensive chances. It seemed like Mikheyev would have a break away every game but was snake bitten when it came to burying the puck. He had the worst shooting percentage of the Leafs at 6.5% and only managed seven goals in 54 games.
It’s important to note that his slump was mostly scoring based – his expected-goals percentage was actually better in his second season than his rookie year, he just couldn’t bury the puck as often.
Mikheyev missed a lot of time due to injury and the pandemic, and he didn’t get a proper training camp. It seemed like he had trouble with his wrist when he returned and even if his wrist was doing well later last season, he had lost his confidence.
The Future of Ilya Mikheyev and the Toronto Maple Leafs
At first, it looked like Mikheyev and the Maple Leafs were destined to part ways. Ilya Mikheyev requested a trade in the off-season as he felt he could get an opportunity at a more offensive role and more minutes with another team.
It seemed Toronto Maple Leafs GM, Kyle Dubas, had more confidence in Mikheyev than Mikheyev had in himself as Dubas guaranteed Mikheyev would continue to be a big part of the team in the future.
In his three games back, Mikheyev has continued to play on the third line, but has seen significant time on both the powerplay and killing penalties. His three goals were all on special teams; two on the powerplay and one short-handed.
He hasn’t scored at even strength yet, but has shown some chemistry with new linemate, Ondřej Kaše, who assisted on Mikheyev’s powerplay goal against the Ottawa Senators. Mikheyev may still get a chance to move up in the lineup, but Kerfoot or Bunting would have to move down and they’ve each had great chemistry with their linemates for most of the season thus far.
Ilya Mikheyev is on the final year of his $1.645 million deal that he signed after his rookie season with the Toronto Maple Leafs which was seen as a very team-friendly deal at the time. Hopefully, Mikheyev will continue to put pucks in the net and can agree to a contract extension that benefits both himself and the Toronto Maple Leafs.