The hockey world has been blessed with some incredible talents from Russia over the years, with titans such as Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin still playing at a high level in the NHL more than a decade after coming over to North America. The next big name to keep an eye on? SKA-1946 right winger Matvei Michkov.
Last year, Michkov put up a ridiculous 109 points in 26 games for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv's under-16 squad. This season, he is already one of the leading scorers in Russia's top junior league, the MHL, with 14 goals and 20 points in 17 games split between SKA's two squads, 1946 and Varyagi. Oh, and by the way, the kid is still 15 years old, playing with and against players several years older than him.
"It's nothing new for me to compete with players older than me, so I feel comfortable," Michkov said through translation. "Of course, the pace is higher here, the guys are physically stronger, but I always give myself the maximum targets. I don't think age is that important. The main thing is how useful you are to the team. Off the ice, I have a good relationship with all of the players, age doesn't come into play."
Moving over to SKA-St. Petersburg's organization has also helped his development. One of Michkov's frequent partners in crime with SKA-1946 is speedy center Marat Khusnutdinov, who was just taken in the second round of the 2020 NHL draft by the Minnesota Wild.
"Marat is a great guy and an excellent teammate," Michkov said. "We quickly found common ground both on and off the ice. Marat skates brilliantly, he sees the ice well and he has leadership qualities."
Other NHL draft picks on SKA-1946 include Columbus' Kirill Marchenko and San Jose's Yegor Spiridonov and a number of the youngsters have gotten into games with the big club in the KHL already, including Nashville first-rounder and goalie phenom Yaroslav Askarov. The mixture of opportunity and training is what drew Michkov to the organization this year.
"The SKA system contains excellent facilities for player development," he said. "Furthermore, young players have been given chances with the first team in recent years, and all of the SKA system teams compete in a fast, attacking manner. I like that way of playing."
A big fan of Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Michkov watches both NHL and KHL players to inform his own game and when you see the electrifying skill he brings in the offensive zone (he's got those magic Russian hands, for sure), it's clear his viewings are paying off already.
Due to a December birthday, Michkov isn't eligible for the NHL draft until 2023, where his main competition will come from speedy center Adam Fantilli of USHL Chicago and laser-shooting Connor Bedard of the WHL's Regina Pats. As far away as that draft class may be, it's already looking like one of the most skilled top ends in recent history. It's incredible to think how much better these players will get in the coming years and for Michkov, he's leaving no stone unturned with his development.
"As they say, 'there is no limit to perfection,' " he said. "There are always things to improve, especially when you take into account that I am only 15. I am trying to improve every element of my performance in every game."
Once Michkov accomplishes that, he's going to be an overwhelming load to handle. He's got the speed, he's got the smarts and he's got the high-end skill to blow away the competition. Just ask all the unlucky defensemen and goaltenders he's gone around already this season.