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May 22, 2024

Flyers thoughts: What happens if Matvei Michkov does come over?

There's still a wait for the Flyers' top prospect, but what fans and the organization are waiting for might have shifted.

Flyers NHL
Matvei-Michkov-NHL-Draft-Stage-2023.jpg Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

The past few weeks have made Matvei Michkov's arrival to the Flyers seem a lot closer than initially thought.

If this was any other team watching the playoffs from home, then it's normally a quiet couple of months leading up to the draft – barring maybe a coaching or front-office hire. 

But this is the Philadelphia Flyers, and good or bad, "normal" is hardly ever a thing with them. And it definitely isn't a quiet couple of months, with speculation beginning to run rampant now that Russian goal-scoring phenom and top prospect Matvei Michkov is suddenly much closer to arriving than expected

A timeline of what's known so far...

During his end-of-season press conference last month, Flyers general manager Danny Brière had little to update about Michkov's status, who they drafted seventh overall last summer but with the full knowledge that he had a three-year contract to fulfill with SKA St. Petersburg in the Russian KHL. If there was a way to get Michkov to Philadelphia sooner, they would pursue it, Brière said, but otherwise, it was going to be another two years to wait. 

• SKA St. Petersburg chairman Alexander Medvedev spoke with Russian sports outlet Match TV in an interview published on April 30, where among the notable topics, he discussed the awareness that his club has an NHL star in the making on their hands, communications with the Flyers and a known desire on their end to bring Michkov over, and a hint toward conversations and a possible decision on Michkov's immediate playing future by the end of June

• After that interview was published, Michkov posted a couple videos of his workouts to Instagram, where he's curiously wearing Flyers gear, which was more than enough to catch fire on social media among the Philadelphia fan base.

• Brière appears in interviews with TSN at the IIHF's U18 World Championships and then on the French-language hockey podcast La Poche Bleue. Questions are asked about Michkov. Answers are kept close to the vest. 

• On May 19, a report from another Russian media outlet in Sport-Express publishes, stating that Michkov "will continue his career in Philadelphia," and have the remainder of his contract with SKA St. Petersburg terminated in order to do so, though with the caveat that the club would still retain his KHL rights. In the moment, the Flyers knew little about the report themselves, and even if they did, there was little they could do about it on their end, per The Athletic's Kevin Kurz. 

• The next day on May 20, Match TV publishes another interview, this time with SKA St. Petersburg head coach Roman Rotenberg. He's asked about rumors of Michkov leaving for the Flyers. Rotenberg says no decision has been made yet, but never outright dismisses the thought, adding "if someone wants to buy these [Michkov's] rights, let’s discuss."

• Calm – well, relatively, for now. And maybe a bit of uneasiness, too. 

So how do you contextualize that? Moreover – and remember, this is still very much an "if" right now – what happens if Michkov actually does come over? 

Here are a few thoughts...

No promises, not yet

Absolutely nothing is certain about this situation until proven otherwise, other than that Matvei Michkov is still a KHL player under contract with SKA St. Petersburg. 

The Flyers can't force him over here, can't influence the current circumstances, and can't directly offer to buy out his KHL contract. All they can do, per Kurz, is offer Michkov an entry-level NHL contract, which caps out at three years and $950,000 per (not including signing or performance bonuses), according to CapFriendly

The onus for clearing an earlier-than-expected path to the NHL, per The Fourth Period's Anthony Di Marco, falls on Michkov, his agent, and SKA St. Petersburg to negotiate an exit. 

That's the outline for how Michkov can jump to North America for this coming 2024-25 NHL season. 

Now it's a matter of "will it?" And that's anyone's guess.

Remember, this situation involves another professional club and its league's terms in a country on the other side of the world and within a highly volatile political climate – just look at Ivan Fedotov's long and trying road to the Flyers as evidence of that.

There are a lot of moving parts here, a lot that can go wrong as a result, and a lot of information that will have to be met with some degree of skepticism just because of how far it's traveling and where it's traveling in from. 

Ultimately, it's still a waiting game for Michkov, but it may have very well just flipped into a different type of waiting game. 

Instead of waiting another two years and clinging on to any insane highlight he produces thousands of miles away over Twitter, it's become about keeping an eye on the end of June for that decision Medvedev mentioned, and for Flyers fans everywhere, holding their breath and keeping their fingers crossed.

It's going to be an interesting next few weeks.

Get a center

But if Michkov does end up coming over now, oh man, does the Flyers' outlook shift and perhaps alter what their next move is.

Because they're going to need a clear top-line center, and with all due respect to Sean Couturier and Morgan Frost, the Flyers just don't have that kind of player right now, nor really anywhere in the pipeline. 

Michkov, even at 19 years old, is a dynamic and creative goal-scoring winger whose production over in Russia has him on a similar trajectory to current NHL stars Alex Ovechkin and Artemi Panarin before they made their respective leaps. 

He should be able to create offense and opportunity on his own, but to really hit the ground running, or at the very least begin to hammer out what the Flyers' long-term core is really going to be, they're going to need an elite, or potentially elite, playmaking center that can control the middle of the ice and get Michkov the puck somewhere in the system.

Granted, that's a task so much easier said than done. 

The notable centers who are lining up to be unrestricted free agents this summer are on the older side and don't exactly fit the mold for a multi-year rebuild – names like Elias Lindholm (29), Matt Duchene (33), and if he even leaves Tampa to begin with, Steven Stamkos (34).

The trade route might open up more possibilities, but ones that are likely to come at a significant cost if so. There have been some whispers and speculation about Trevor Zegras (23) in Anaheim ever since Jamie Drysdale came over in the Cutter Gauthier trade, but the Ducks can't be expected to give him away for nothing. Similarly, Martin Necas (25) is a restricted free agent and due up for a new contract in Carolina, but the Hurricanes face a serious cap crunch and are unlikely to give him any sort of extended look at center (he's played mostly wing with them) with who else they intend to keep.

The Flyers could also try and make a play up the draft board to secure a spot to take another big swing for a prospect like fellow Russian and SKA St. Petersburg skater Ivan Demidov, who's projected to be a top pick behind the consensus No. 1 Macklin Celebrini. 

The scenarios like those mentioned above are going to come at a high cost. However, the Flyers are going to have two first-rounders and potentially two second-rounders to work with next month, and if they're in a situation where they know they have Michkov, then arguably nothing should be entirely off the table.

If a team asks about Travis Konecny or Joel Farabee to complete a move that sets up the next 5-7 years compared to the next 1-2, the Flyers might have to do it. The only true untouchable, really, should be Tyson Foerster. 

A test for everyone

Michkov coming over, whether it's in two weeks or two years, is going to change a lot of things for the Flyers – maybe more than people truly realize. 

It's going to be on him to establish himself in the NHL, absolutely, and of course, he'll still be far from a finished product if and when the time comes. 

But when the time does come, he's going to be arriving to Philadelphia with the potential of being a game-changing superstar.

It's not going to be like Claude Giroux, who was the face of the franchise for years but only hockey people ever really knew him. It's going to be to that Eric Lindros level, one not seen in years and not seen since, where everyone is going to know him.

That type of status is going to be a lot, but as it concerns Brière, president of hockey ops Keith Jones, and more specifically head coach John Tortorella, it's going to be a real test, because Tortorella is more than likely not going to be able to use any of the motivating tactics that he did this past season on Michkov. 

When Michkov comes over, it's to play in the NHL. There aren't going to be any demotions to the Phantoms for AHL reps. 

A top-six role is probably waiting for him, too, especially because the Flyers are still likely to be talent-starved offensively, plus scratches and prolonged benchings are going to be tough sells. 

Michkov is still going to have to earn his keep, but his path to earning it is going to be different, which might lead Tortorella to approach things a bit different. 

Because if Michkov does end up coming over for this season, he's coming to play. 

And if he doesn't, as Rotenberg was sure to point out in his Match TV interview from earlier this week, the door will be open for him back in Russia.

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