On May 6th the Maple Leafs signed undrafted forward Ilya Mikheyev to a one-year entry-level contract. The 24 year old Russian spent the last four years playing for Omsk Avangard in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and has seen a steady increase in production. During the 2018-19 season, Mikheyev led Avangard with 45 points during the regular season and had another 11 points during the team’s playoff run in which Avangard won the East Championship, but lost the Championship Final to CSKA.
It’s been reported that there were a few teams trying to sign Mikheyev, but as Kevin McGran from the Toronto Star reported, it seems like the Maple Leafs had the upper hand thanks to coach Mike Babcock. Babcock stayed in close contact with Mikheyev all season and the relationship between the two seems to have been helped by former Babcock favorite Pavel Datsyuk.
It is expected that with Zach Hyman starting the season on Injury Reserve (IR), Mikheyev will start the season playing with either Auston Matthews or John Tavares in a top-six role. I think that he’ll spend most of his season on the third line with new Maple Leaf Alexander Kerfoot, but will move up and down the lineup depending on production and injuries. Fans can expect to see a player who has good puck control, is a good skater, uses his size (6’2″) well and has a strong hockey IQ to both make plays and finish them.
Like most European players playing in the National Hockey League (NHL) for the first time, Mikheyev will face the challenge of playing on a smaller ice surface and living in a new country. He will also be dealing with the challenges of being on a new team and learning a new system. This can often lead to a slow start for some players, so I think that by the NHL All-Star break (January 24th-27th) we should have a better idea of how Mikheyev has adapted to life in the NHL.
Mikheyev’s contract is a one year deal worth $925,000 and will end with him being an RFA next summer. Mikheyev is waivers exempt which means if things don’t work out for him in the NHL, the Maple Leafs can move him down to the Marlies in the American Hockey League (AHL) without him having to clear waivers.
Let’s hope that Mikheyev will fit in nicely on this year’s Maple Leafs team and is able to be a productive winger for Mike Babcock and his staff.
Thank you for reading.
Jeremy Ridgewell is a Toronto Maple Leafs contributor at Overtime Heroics. Follow him @Jermz13
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