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June 28, 2023

NHL Draft: Flyers take the leap, pick Russian phenom Matvei Michkov 7th overall

The Flyers are making a massive bet on Michkov, who won't be available until 2026. But if it works, they might eventually end up with one of the NHL's best goal scorers.

Danny Brière made a massive bet with his first pick as general manager, but if it works, the Flyers could end up with one of the NHL's next major stars and maybe even its best pure goal-scorer. 

But they're more than likely going to have to wait a few years. 

With the seventh overall pick Wednesday night down in Nashville, the Flyers took Russian phenom – and the 2023 draft class' greatest mystery man – Matvei Michkov, staking what is now, without question, going to be a lengthy rebuild on a prospect who isn't expected to be available until 2026 at the earliest. 

From our read of Michkov earlier this week:

He is the biggest question mark in the draft but not because of anything on the ice. Already playing in the pros over in Russia against grown men, Michkov has exhibited all the skills and traits of a pure goal-scorer to the point where some have even wondered if he's the next Russian phenom in the same vein as Alex Ovechkin. 

The concern, however, lies in when you're going to get him, and if you're ever going to get him. Few have seen Michkov play up close because Russia has been barred from international competition by the IIHF, and because of his professional contract status in the Russian KHL, the earliest he would be available to come over to North America is 2026. On top of that, the idea of drafting a Russian prospect is still a highly-sensitive matter among teams because of the country's ongoing invasion of Ukraine and skepticism over the amount of reliable information coming out of it. 

And specifically to the Flyers, though it wouldn't be the same exact situation, they've already been burnt trying to bring over a Russian prospect when goaltender Ivan Fedotov was instead detained within the country and forced to enlist in the Russian military.

Michkov will be in Nashville for the draft this week, and in their pre-draft media availability last week, Brière and [assistant GM Brent Flahr] did say they'll have a chance to interview him. Whether they gather enough insight from that expected talk to feel secure in taking him, however, will remain to be seen. 

They got what they needed out of the interview to take the leap, but in doing so, Brière and the Flyers made it clear – in case it wasn't already – that this rebuild is going to take a long, long time. 

Michkov, an 18-year old right winger, skated 30 games in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League this past season, putting up nine goals and 20 points on a loan to HK Sochi for 27 of them. To put that into perspective, his scoring pace playing against adults in the KHL entering this year's draft was comparable to that of Ovechkin's during his draft year back in 2004. And Ovechkin, as we all know, went on to quickly become one of the all-time great goal scorers. 

The big hangup with Michkov, however, was his commitment to the KHL. He's under contract with SKA St. Petersburg for the next three seasons, and that, combined with the overall unstable situation in Russia, was enough to give teams a fair amount of concern. 

But the skill and star potential are absolutely there, and after finally getting a chance to sit down with him earlier this week, the Flyers are willing to wait. After all, they're going to have the time. 

"It is what it is," Brière told ESPN after making the pick. "We know he's got a contract for three more seasons, but for us, we just felt that after watching him play and after meeting him, we just felt it's a talent that we cannot pass up.

"If we have to wait, we'll wait."

So get comfortable. We're going to be on Michkov watch for a while. 

MORE: Flyers take d-man Oliver Bonk at No. 22

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