When forward Ilya Mikheyev became a free agent after the 2018-19 KHL season, the Toronto Maple Leafs came calling. The team signed Mikheyev on May 6th, 2019, to a one-year entry-level contract worth $925,000.
The signing happened with some influence from both within the Toronto Maple Leafs organization and outside of it. During the summer before his last KHL season, Mikheyev and his agent met with numerous NHL general managers.
During the season, Mikheyev started to filter his choices down to a select few, with Toronto being one of them. Knowing that they had a real shot at signing him, head coach Mike Babcock opened a line of communication with Mikheyev online.
The two had previously met when Babcock went to Denmark in 2018 to watch Mikheyev play in the World Championships. Thanks to that previous meeting, plus some help from Pavel Datsyuk and Nikita Zaitsev, Mikheyev chose Toronto.
Ilya Mikheyev’s Good Start With The Toronto Maple Leafs Faded With Injury
During his first season with the Maple Leafs, Mikheyev was doing well with 23 points in 39 games. That is until he suffered a wrist injury in a game against the New Jersey Devils on December 27th, 2019. The injury cost Mikheyev the rest of the regular season.
Mikheyev was on pace for 16 goals and 31 assists for 47 points in his rookie season. It was a shame it had to end the way that it did. He returned in time for the 2020 playoffs, but he did not look comfortable. (Stats from hockey-reference.com)
Fast forward to the 2020-21 season, and for Mikheyev, the struggles continued. His style of play was good, and he was able to use his speed to get open and generate scoring chances. The problem was he failed to score on those chances far too often.
Mikheyev scored seven goals on 107 shots last season, giving him a low shooting percentage of 6.5%. He finished the season with 17 points in 54 games.
Due to his decreased ice time and his role on the team being slightly changed, it was reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Mikheyev issued a trade request following last season. Toronto GM Kyle Dubas put his foot down and relayed to both Mikheyev and his agent that the 26-year-old is a key part of the team’s plans in 2021-22.
Toronto Maple Leafs Patience With Mikheyev Paying Off…So Far
After his slump last season, Mikheyev was hoping to turn things around this season. Unfortunately, he was injured in Toronto’s final pre-season game on October 9th. He suffered a hand injury while falling awkwardly following an uncalled cross-check from Ottawa defenceman Dillon Heatherington along the boards.
Mikheyev returned to Toronto’s lineup on December 14th, 2021, against the Edmonton Oilers. Due to some postponed games in the team’s schedule, Mikheyev has only played three games this season. He has three goals on 13 shots in those three games with a 23.1% shooting percentage.
It looks like he is playing up to his potential, and if that continues, it gives Toronto another scoring threat. The better Mikheyev plays, the better things look for the Leafs and their fans. Both Mikheyev and the Maple Leafs will be looking to continue their recent success tomorrow, against the Colorado Avalanche.