The Washington Capitals’ rumored pursuit of Matvei Michkov was all but confirmed by GM Brian MacLellan after he spoke to reporters at the 2023 NHL Draft.
The morning of the draft, Hockey Insiders Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek reported that all the talk heading into the event was that the Capitals were trying to find a way to move up ahead of the Flyers to pick Michkov.
“We talked to a couple teams,” MacLellan said of moving up in the draft. “It didn’t seem like it was going to happen. It ended up we had to sit there. It seemed like everybody had their guy that they wanted to get. [Players] shuffled around a little bit (in draft position) but everybody wanted to stand pat.”
Wednesday marked the first time in 16 years that there were no trades in the first round of the draft and that surprised the Capitals general manager.
“I didn’t think in the beginning there’d be any trades but later on you might see some movement by teams,” MacLellan said.
Despite not ending up with Michkov, the Capitals were very pleased with landing forward Ryan Leonard, a feisty product out of the U-18 USA Hockey National Team Development Program who compared his playing style to Hart Trophy finalist Matthew Tkachuk. The Capitals did not believe Leonard would last until pick number eight, having him ranked several spots earlier on their draft board.
“Great pick, excited to get him,” MacLellan said. “Like the player, like the personality. Probably a little surprised for us that he was available at that point. I think everybody in the organization is excited with the pick.
“I think he’s a hardworking player, competitive, he’s strong on the puck. He’s going to score some goals, strong to the net. A lot of the attributes you want in a power forward.”
As for MacLellan’s assertion that other teams weren’t budging with their picks ahead of them, that was backed up by those teams’ general mangers when they spoke to the press. The Montreal Canadiens’ number five pick was the most heavily rumored selection to be available, but they ended up drafting defenseman David Reinbacher.
“There were different options in terms of what we could have done from a trade perspective but I think at the end of the day, our scouts believe that this was a hockey player who’s going to play for us for a long time and be on the ice an awful lot,” Canadiens GM Kent Johnson said, calling the Austrian a future top-pairing rearguard. “We weren’t going to be able to find a trade as valuable as David at five.”
The Coyotes, who picked one spot lower at number six, were also not interested in dealing and took Russian defenseman Dmitri Simashev — a player ranked as high as eighth and as low as 38th on national analysts’ draft boards.
“You could but it was just to the point we didn’t want to lose him,” Darryl Plandowski, the Coyotes’ director of amateur scouting, said. “If this is the player we want, let’s just go get him. It would’ve crushed us not to get him.”
While Michkov was considered a top three talent in the draft, his existing KHL contract, which will keep him in Russia for the next three seasons (unless he negotiates a way out of it), and other geopolitical concerns made his selection risky for many teams. And he could prove hard to work with. Michkov already told Flyers management that he will not be at their Development Camp next week due to hockey commitments he previously made in Russia.
The situation could end up being a boon for the Capitals, who selected a hardworking and talented prospect that will remain close to them on the east coast at Boston College next season.
“It’s just kind of hoping and praying,” Leonard said admitting he hoped he’d be picked by Washington. “It’s even better that I’m staying in the red, white, and blue. So yeah, (I’m) really excited.”
Screenshot courtesy of @Capitals
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