About 12 hours apart by modern jet travel, Philadelphia Flyers prospects Matvei Michkov and Cutter Gauthier spectacularly worked on their craft.
Two young men, still in their teens, doing what they’ve been doing forever — playing hockey and playing it as well as anyone.
On August ice sheets in Sochi, Russia, and Plymouth, Mich., two of the most highly anticipated Flyers prospects in decades scored goals, made on-the-money passes and looked, frankly, like all the hype was worth it.
Michkov was fast and skilled, a superior skater who found open spaces and controlled the puck. And found the back of the net.
Gauthier: Ditto … but with more physicality.
And located between Metro Detroit and Russia, Philadelphia Flyers hockey fans wondered if their luck had finally changed. They wondered if their hot-shot draft picks were going to pay off and make hockey fun again.
They Can Play
Flyers fans read the dispatches and watched the video. Wow, they said. Yo, these guys can really play.
Michkov and Gauthier are expected to be the cornerstones of the Flyers’ rebuild. Michkov flying on the right wing — his off-wing — with an offensive skill rarely seen in Philadelphia. Then, Michkov playing center, and the talk in Russia that he might play center this season.
Michkov has a shot with power and intent. He has a nose for the net. In interviews, he professes not only a love for winning but a hatred for losing.
The Flyers hope Gauthier can be that big center they so desperately need. He’s a big man who already has a pro’s shot at age 19. It’s a heavy shot that is released in a flash. He’s a powerful skater who can score from anywhere in the offensive zone.
Patience is the keyword for the Flyers. They really don’t have much choice. Michkov is under contract to a Russian team for three seasons. If he plays out the contract, he won’t be in Philadelphia until 2026-27.
Gauthier, who skipped the Flyers Development Camp in July, is going back to Boston College for his sophomore season. His freshman season was everything the Flyers could have wanted. Gauthier showed all of his superior skills as one of the youngest players on the BC team — just as he did at the World Championships in May.
The plan is for Gauthier to maybe get some NHL or AHL playing time next spring after the Boston College season ends. The next step would be for Gauthier to make the Flyers’ roster coming out of 2024 training camp.
Plans and next steps sound good on conference calls and in Zoom meetings. For flesh and blood hockey players, rarely is anything easy. Hockey is demanding, grueling and physical. The seasons are long and grind you down slowly, then all at once.
Injuries take a toll and they’re inevitable. You have to be good, great and lucky. The Flyers haven’t enjoyed much good, great or lucky recently.
Tons of Pressure
Then there’s the pressure internalized on a professional hockey player. The pressure to perform, to excel, to play winning hockey. To keep one’s stature in the sport.
Plus, there’s external pressures. Fans can be rough — to be polite. There is peer pressure among the players. There is management pressure, the constant demand for performance.
Financial pressure is there. Great players can set up their financial lives. NHL players can have that sweet life plus the lakeside cottage in Ontario — or the dacha on the Black Sea. They just have to play … and play well.
Since Michkov and Gauthier became stars as mites or on the peewee level, they’re known about crushing expectations. They’ve felt pressure; they’ve lived pressure. Gauthier has played for his country every year since 2020. Michkov has been one of Russia’s best young players for years.
This is the life they have chosen. Or, given their talent, it was the life they were destined to live.
And to live this life, on two continents skating on summer ice, Michkov and Gauthier went about their business last week. Two young men on a mission, you might say. Two young men showing their rare hockey gifts.
Across North America, Flyers fans bide their time. They curse patience. They know something good is heading their way. They’re sure of it.