The Philadelphia Flyers’ selection of Matvei Michkov was the NHL Draft’s most suspenseful moment.
After the Blackhawks picked Connor Bedard, five other teams passed on Michkov. There was some surprise when Anaheim selected Leo Carlsson at No. 2, instead of Adam Fantilli.
Columbus was thrilled to select Fantilli at 3. The Blue Jackets — and nearly everyone else — expected Fantilli to go to the Ducks.
Starting with the fourth pick, tension kicked in. Will Smith was the expected selection by San Jose, but the Sharks had been linked to Michkov. What if, right?
San Jose took Smith. Now it really got interesting.
Montreal, all along, was considered the key to Michkov. Mock drafts has Michkov slotted to the Canadiens at No. 5. Stories written in Montreal connected Michkov to the Canadiens and offered solid reasons why it might happen.
What Would Montreal Do?
For the Philadelphia Flyers, with the No. 7 pick, the Canadiens were the final barrier to Michkov. The Flyers believed if Montreal took someone else, they only had to worry about someone trading up with No. 6 Arizona because the Coyotes reportedly weren’t taking Michkov.
Montreal took the best defenseman on the board, David Reinbacher, with the fifth pick.
What happened next was poor draft management and technique — and it greatly benefitted the Flyers. Why didn’t Arizona leverage its sixth pick to either the Flyers at No. 7 or the Capitals at No. 8, or some other team interested in Michkov?
Arizona probably could have swapped draft positions and received an extra pick. Washington wanted to draft Michkov. The Flyers obviously wanted Michkov. The Coyotes should study the draft-day strategies of Eagles general manager Howie Roseman.
The Coyotes surprised everyone by taking a Russian, but not the guy who was considered the second-best talent in the draft behind Bedard. Arizona selected defenseman Dmitriy Simashev, who was slotted to go in the high-teens.
Philadelphia, you’re on the clock.
Why Michkov was Available
Flyers assistant general manager Alyn McCauley has a theory why Michkov dropped to No. 7.
“I can understand the reluctance or hesitation that a player you haven’t seen live or few people have seen live for a number of years,” McCauley, a former San Jose Shark, said recently on the San Jose Hockey Now podcast.
“When it comes to the draft you are projecting and it is a bit of educated guesswork. It made it even more volatile or harder to predict or project where’s that player going to get to when you haven’t laid your own eyes on him in quite some time.
“Three years ago, or two years ago, he looked like a player that challenged Bedard. I just wouldn’t think that the hockey world is getting it wrong [not drafting Michkov] as much as they’re just going with a known commodity versus one that’s more up in the air.”
McCauley said the Flyers did their homework. They met with Michkov in Russia. Michkov visited the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees. By the time draft night rolled around, general manager Daniel Briere was ready to draft Michkov.
“It was a blast,” Briere said after the day after the draft.
“We met in a small group with him. When he left, we were blown away by how much he wanted to be a Flyer.”
Drafting Michkov came with a unique set of circumstances, maybe as many as any draft pick ever.
Michkov is under contract in Russia for three more years. There remains a geopolitical crisis after Russia invaded Ukraine. Plus, the limited number of times the Flyers scouted him.
“We have a scout based in Russia,” McCauley said. “So he [Ken Hoodikoff] was able to see the player, talk to the player, communicate with coaches around the league. So there was some contact and some ability to assess the player.
“But at the same time, that’s one opinion, one live opinion. I certainly watched video on him and did some homework but [it’s] not the same … Your best opinion is going to come from watching the player live.”
Briere and the Flyers unexpectedly watched Michkov go undrafted after six picks. For a rebuilding franchise that needs star power— and a guy who can score goals — the Flyers knew Michkov had to be the selection.
When it worked out that way, Briere didn’t hesitate.