The term “elite” is so overused in hockey.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes the term as meaning “the best of a class”. Oxford Languages defines it as “a select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group.” In that, case very few players can be elite. Connor McDavid is elite. Alex Ovechkin is elite. Sidney Crosby is elite. Auston Matthews, Nathan Mackinnon and a handful of others. The best of the best that do the job better than anyone else. So it’s always silly to see so many young prospects have the term “elite” when describing a skill. Compared to the rest of the draft class? Sure, but that’s not the best comparable.
Matvei Michkov, though, has elite qualities, and nobody who has ever watched the 16-year-old decimate goaltenders will say otherwise.
That’s a lot of pressure for someone so young, someone who isn’t eligible for the NHL draft until 2023. But Michkov is a top candidate to go first overall that year, with Canadian phenom Connor Bedard looking like the only player who could step in his way.
“That’s a special player, a very good one,” German coach Steffen Ziesche said.
Ziesche and his team got a first-hand look at exactly what makes Mishkov look so dangerous on Thursday. Michkov scored four goals – including an incredible lacrosse-style goal (the second of the tournament) – to pull off one of the best performances from a U-16 player at the U-18s ever.
“My only thought was, ‘I cannot do that,'” Michkov’s teammate Fyodor Svechkov joked after the game.
Michkov’s seven points in three games is low on the all-time 16-year-old scoring chart, but of players with at least three games played in a single year, only Mikhail Grigorenko (2.57 PPG in seven games in 2011) has a better points-per-game record in that span. The best 16-year-old performance was a 14-goal, 18-point run in 2002 by Alex Ovechkin, and with six goals in three games, the idea of Michkov catching that total isn’t out of the equation.
How does Michkov feel about his early tournament success? He’s humble, at least.
“Basically, the emotions are pretty regular,” Michkov said through a translator. “The most important thing is that we got the W.”
It’s a bland answer, but Michkov knows he’s a special talent. People have been saying that for a few years now, especially after scoring 109 points in 26 games in the Russian U-16 league. He’d pot 56 in 56 games as a 16-year-old in the U-20 division – that’s a two-point jump over Nikita Kucherov, the player with the previous best point total from a 16-year-old in the MHL. Kucherov would later become an NHL MVP, for what it’s worth.
All signs point to Michkov being a franchise player for an NHL team one day. While he hasn’t played a KHL game yet, he’s signed to remain in the SKA St. Petersburg system until 2026 – when he’s 21. So whichever team takes Michkov in 2023 will have to wait a couple of years to bring him over, but it’ll be well worth it.
“He’s got a bit of Pavel Datsyuk and Nikita Kucherov in him,” a Russian scout said. “He’s got hands like the Magic Man and the offensive instincts of Kuch. Michkov is as close to a sure thing as it gets among Russian prospects.
Those are bold words about a kid that is two years out of being able to legally drive in Russia. But the numbers are there, both domestically and internationally, and despite standing at a small 5-foot-9 and being the second-youngest player in the tournament, he hasn’t looked out of place. Quite the opposite, actually. He has looked more like a leader, someone you know is going to be an offensive threat every time he touches the puck.
“I think he’s a very talented player,” said Connor Korte, who had Germany’s lone goal. “He’s still very young, but he had a perfect game against us.”
Ice time figures aren’t publicly available for the tournament, but we can tell Russia isn’t simply sheltering him, either. Michkov has spent the entire tournament on the team’s second line but has had tournament star Nikita Chibrikov on his opposite wing for the past two, a big reason why Michkov has been able to unlock his full offensive talents.
“Matvei plays better from game to game,” Russian coach Albert Leshyov said. “And obviously I’d like to congratulate him, but at the end of the day, his four goals are from a team effort. This is how it happened.”
That’s boring, coach. Just say what we’re all thinking: Michkov is a darn good hockey player. And he’s on pace to become an absolutely elite NHL talent one day.