Flyers Take The Swing They Need in Drafting Matvei Michkov
The No. 7 selection in the 2023 NHL Draft will be judged like any other pick — looking backward, not forward. The last time the Philadelphia Flyers drafted this high, cheers rained down and optimism was also high. Due to factors in and out of his control, the applause for 2017 No. 2 choice Nolan Patrick never really exceeded that moment.
Maybe the same will be true for Matvei Michkov. Maybe not. The Flyers are certainly hoping for the latter. But zoning in solely on whether or not Michkov pans out, or to what degree, misses the bigger point. Anyone can write a re-draft article for any past NHL Draft. Try as they might, no one knows exactly how Michkov’s career will play out. Or Ryan Leonard’s. Or any other prospect’s.
So, before the focus shifts to the future, it’s worth taking a snapshot of the present moment. The Flyers may be in a rebuild, but there’s reason to believe that it might not be a long one. Here are some of the 26-and-under-year-old members of the organization: 30-goal scorer Travis Konecny, former 20-goal scorer Joel Farabee, 20-goal scorer Owen Tippett, 2019 No. 14 pick (and, more recently and in a small sample size, analytical darling) Cam York, Calder and Selke vote-getter Noah Cates, 2017 No. 27 pick and near 50-point scorer Morgan Frost, proven NHL starting goalie Carter Hart. Here are some of the under-22-year-old members of the organization: 2022 No. 5 pick Cutter Gauthier, former Hobey Baker finalist Bobby Brink, 2020 No. 23 pick Tyson Foerster, 2022 Sweden World Junior captain Emil Andrae, touted Russian goalie Aleksei Kolosov.
Those are a lot of good pieces. Some may be traded as soon as the next few days. Others may not develop well enough to thrive in the world’s premier hockey league. But enough there to feel good.
The problem is, as the Flyers learned the hard way throughout the 2010s, good isn’t good enough. The team toiled in the NHL’s mushy middle for essentially a decade, finishing between 13th and 24th every season from 2012-13 through 2018-19. The brief taste of success they enjoyed in 2019-20 was quickly washed out by another year of mediocrity before a tumble into the NHL’s doldrums.
The Flyers have a lot of good young talent. That would have been true regardless of who they chose with the seventh overall pick Wednesday night. Now, after selecting Michkov with that pick, the Flyers have something that only Gauthier and maybe Hart have a decent chance of being — a great talent.
Great talent doesn’t always yield great results. And there are reasons to be concerned about Michkov. He is under contract to play in Russia for the next three years, a country with a complicated (to say the least) geopolitical situation that just last year prevented Flyers goalie prospect Ivan Fedotov from coming to North America. Some are reportedly concerned about Michkov’s character, a trait the Flyers have always prioritized highly.
But the bigger concern would be facing Michkov in a few years and having to wonder what could have been. Michkov was No. 3 on many analysts’ boards and a player with No. 1 pick-level talent. Of course, he was never going to go that high this year — that spot has belonged to Connor Bedard since before the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, let alone Vegas. The level of talent that Michkov brings to the table offensively, however, is seldom available as far back as the seventh pick.
Michkov’s level of talent is the type of talent a team needs to have to win the Stanley Cup. There aren’t many ways to get it. They rarely come available in free agency — there certainly isn’t one in this year’s crop. They’re hard to come by in trades. The Flyers have shown little appetite for tanking to the degree of a team like Chicago to maximize their lottery odds. And their chances of moving up far enough to get one of those players without doing that are slim. We’re talking single digits, maybe slightly higher at best.
Now, the Flyers have a player with that talent, the favorite to be the best player the organization has seen since Claude Giroux — a perennial All-Star who received Hart consideration four times and scored at least 70 points in six different seasons.
The Michkov, like Giroux pick and the Patrick pack and every other pick, will be judged on how it turns out in the long run. But there’s also worth grading on the logic used to make the pick in the present. The Flyers lacked a clear, sound process in the later years of Chuck Fletcher’s tenure. They stuck to it too strongly during the Ron Hextall era. Daniel Brière’s term is just beginning, of course. And what separates him isn’t his ability to make moves popular with the fan base. Hextall did that with the Braydon Coburn trade and trading up to draft Travis Konecny and the Zac Rinaldo trade and the Vincent Lecavalier trade. Fletcher did that with the Dale Weise trade and burying Jori Lehterä in the AHL and buying out Andrew MacDonald.
Brière, so far, has shown an intriguing combination of patience and creativity. He put together one blockbuster trade, nearly engineered a second and showed adaptability when the first Kevin Hayes trade with the St. Louis Blues didn’t come to pass. And when the opportunity to take Michkov — a risk, sure, but one that made sense given the team’s timeline for their return to contention and Michkov’s talent, especially relative to the rest of the players available — he made the choice that needed to be made. Whether or not it’s the right one is for everyone to find out. But there are a lot of things the Flyers need to do to return to contention. So it’s worth celebrating the moment when one of those boxes — and perhaps the most important one — gets checked off.