There’s less than a week to go before the 2023 NHL Draft and the destination for Russian phenom Matvei Michkov remains a virtual mystery. Teams have reportedly had trouble getting to talk to him, leading to rumors that he could be angling to go to a specific team.
The Capitals would be an obvious choice: Michkov previously said it would be “great” to be drafted by Washington and a Russian report indicated that he would most likely go to DC. But with the eighth overall pick, it’s uncertain whether he’ll slide down the board when the Caps make their selection.
Caps assistant general manager Ross Mahoney was asked about Michkov in his pre-draft press conference Tuesday but remained vague when asked whether the team had spoken with him or had plans to do so.
“We’re still trying to finalize all of that as far as the interviews that we’ve got at the draft,” Mahoney explained. “So I can’t give you a definitive answer there right now.”
One of the primary reasons that Michkov could fall to the eighth pick despite his talent level is his KHL contract. He’s signed with SKA St. Petersburg through the 2025-26 season, making him a tough sell for teams looking to rebuild quickly. For the Capitals, however, Mahoney doesn’t see that as an obstacle.
“As far as the contract talk, that really doesn’t play a lot into our thoughts,” Mahoney said. “We’ve always been very, very patient with our prospects and I think it’s the right way to go. I think there’s no sense to rush them into the NHL.”
He later added, “Some of those European players that we drafted also, they’ve played with men in the elite leagues over there for two or three years already. So that transition for them is probably a little bit quicker. But even those players: Alex didn’t play until he was 20. A lot of our better European players haven’t played till they’re 20, 21, 22.”
Mahoney compared the situation to North American players, noting that many of them won’t play in the NHL for years after the draft.
“For me, it’s like if we draft a player let’s say out of the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League-he’s going to go back and play two more years of junior hockey for sure,” he said. “He’s probably going to go to Hershey for a year or two. Well, that’s all of a sudden, that’s like be having a four-year contract in the sense of being able to come over and play for the Capitals, you know?”
While some teams picking early need immediate help, the Caps are in a position to wait for Michkov’s development. They’ve also had past success bringing players over from the KHL: last month they were able to get 2022 first-rounder Ivan Miroshnichenko out of the final year of his KHL deal and sign him to a three-year, entry-level contract.
Mahoney saw the Capitals’ approach towards Michkov as emblematic of a larger strategy in the organization: don’t rush your young players. He explicitly connected that ethos to the Hershey Bears’ Calder Cup Championship win last night, with several of the Bears current players likely to spend time in Washington this fall.
“I think [waiting for European players] is part of our team philosophy of taking our time and and overcooking them, so to speak,” Mahoney said. “I think it’s paid big dividends for us. I look at last night, once again, we have the Hershey Bears being able to have a tremendous season.
“We’ve got the Lapierres and we’ve got the Iorios and Malenstyn and McMichael and Sutter. So there we are with a lot of young prospects that are making their way through the system of pro hockey and getting a lot of experience. We’ve been very patient with them.”
Headline photo: @matvey_michkov39/IG
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