Remember the Matvei Michkov discourse last year?
Between the contract situation, rumors surrounding on- and off-ice concerns and then the slide in the draft, just about everyone had thoughts about the young Russian forward. He bounced around a bit before getting loaned out to Sochi’s KHL team, which, at the time, was dead last. But Michkov put up some of the best numbers ever seen by a U-19 KHLer, and the legend was born.
It’s absolutely bonkers the Philadelphia Flyers managed to snag him at No. 7. Many scouts would have taken Michkov No. 1 in most other years, but Connor Bedard had other plans. Still, every time Michkov hits the ice is must-watch entertainment, but the Flyers still need to wait until 2026 – for now – to see him up close.
Let’s start this week’s roundup off by catching up on the talented winger:
– Matvei Michkov‘s ice time – or lack thereof – was a huge talking point when he kicked the year off with SKA St. Petersburg. Michkov only played one game for SKA St. Petersburg and was a healthy scratch for multiple games before getting loaned out to HK Sochi once again. He has 24 points in 25 games, putting him on a 57-point pace. His three-point effort on Thursday was among his best KHL performances. He’d be tied for the scoring lead on St. Petersburg for reference. For what it’s worth, Michkov is on pace to be the first U-20 KHLer to ever break the 50-point barrier, with Kirill Kaprizov’s 42-point campaign in 2016-17 being the best on record.
– Isak Rosén had a solid rookie season with the Rochester Americans last year but was overshadowed by Jiri Kulich’s success. The Buffalo Sabres prospect is on pace for 36 goals and 87 points this year, with his 17 points in 14 games putting him ninth in league scoring. His combination of speed with a quick release makes him dangerous every time he hits the ice. Hopefully, he won’t be the odd man out in Buffalo next year because he’s so dangerous with the puck.
– The Manitoba Moose have a new top scorer. Nikita Chibrikov has looked excellent in his first year of pro hockey in North America, scoring goals in his past three games to give him 14 points in 13 games. Goals haven’t been easy to come by the past few years – he scored once in 31 KHL games last year – but he has an excellent release and is a smart playmaker, too. The Winnipeg Jets drafted Chibrikov 50th overall two years ago, with his decision-making being a big concern at the time. That’s less of an issue now.
– By AHL standards, Alex Steeves has had a solid career. He had a 46-point rookie season with the Toronto Marlies two years ago before upping the stakes with 51 points last year. But right now, he’s up to 11 goals and 18 points, putting him second in scoring behind former linemate Adam Gaudette. Steeves is riding an 11-game point streak, including four points in two games over the Manitoba Moose. Turning 24 next month, Steeves is one of the oldest prospects for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I’m not sure he’s fit for a bottom-six role, either. But as a finisher, he’s one heck of a minor leaguer.
– Florian Xhekaj is a 19-year-old human wrecking ball. But he’s also showing a previously untapped scoring touch that has seen him register nine points over his past six games – including four points in two games this weekend. He’s the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens prospect Arber Xhekaj, GM Kent Hughes elected to keep Florian in the family, and he’s already looking like one of the team’s most improved prospects.
– Tanner Molendyk‘s offensive qualities were evident early in his WHL career, but he didn’t explode offensively with the Saskatoon Blades last year. Molendyk had 37 points in 67 games last year but already has four goals and 20 assists in 17 games with the Blades, including a three-point effort on Nov. 10. Molendyk is an explosive skater with great puck-moving instincts and can be deceptive with the puck, too. The beast has finally been unleashed, Nashville Predators fans.
– Andrew Strathmann, a fourth-round pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets last spring, had himself a solid weekend. His two-point effort over the Chicago Steel on Sunday snapped a three-game pointless streak. He also was named to USA’s World Junior A Challenge roster for the second year, where he’s hoping to build upon a great showing a year ago. The Blue Jackets have one of the deepest blueline prospect pools (and, after what we’ve seen as of late, they need it), and there’s the potential for Strathmann being the odd-man out down the line. But he’s as well-rounded of a defender as you’ll find in the USHL right now.
– Matt Copponi has been a force with Mercyhurst, recording 13 points in his past 10 games after failing to get on the scoresheet in the season opener. A seventh-round pick by the Edmonton Oilers in 2023, Copponi stands out because of his hockey sense. He’s so smart, allowing him to makes decisions under pressure on the fly. He’s not a great skater, which is why he was passed over twice. But his shot has come a long way since his prep school days.
– I had my concerns about Detroit Red Wings first-rounder Axel Sandin Pellikka‘s overall game throughout most of his draft year. Now? Can’t get enough of him. He’s putting up great numbers with seven goals and 10 points in 18 games with Skellefteå AIK and had an excellent showing at the U-20 Five Nations torunament with Sweden last weekend. He’s playing over 20 minutes a night in the SHL, which isn’t always easy for an 18-year-old defenseman in European pro. But his three-point effort on Thursday showed when he’s playing with confidence, both at 5-on-5 and on the man advantage, he can be so dangerous.
– Italian-born goaltender Damian Clara had a bit of a rocky start in his first full pro season, with starts becoming a bit rarer. He also allowed 10 goals in his first three starts, which didn’t help his cause. But then he nabbed a 24-save shutout on Oct. 20, which started a great run where he has allowed just five goals in his past four games with Brynas. The Anaheim Ducks prospect stands tall at 6-foot-6, and a big thing for scouts last year was watching Clara figure out how to use his size to his advantage. He has great speed in the crease, reads the play well and is as competitive as it gets.
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