MONTREAL - On March 3, Ivan Miroshnichenko's life changed forever.
A projected top 10 pick for the 2022 draft, Miroshnichenko was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, the same cancer Mario Lemieux had, which prematurely ended his season. A polarizing player on the ice due to his up-and-down nature, it was all positive thoughts moving forward for the young Russian.
Thankfully, after travelling to Germany to receive treatment, the cancer went into full remission, allowing him to prepare for a full return next season. Exactly three months to the day of his announcement, Miroshnichenko returned to the ice for the first of approximately 10 on-ice sessions to get his feet back moving and prepare for a return in 2022-23.
And just over four months after his cancer diagnosis, Ivan Miroshnichenko became a member of the Washington Capitals -- the home of one of his hockey heroes, Alex Ovechkin.
In fact, some scouts likened his stylistic ability to Ovechkin thanks to his great shot, powerful skating and ability to hunt for pucks at all costs. That's quite the comparable, and incredible praise for a player so young.
"If (2023 NHL draft star) Matvei Michkov wasn't around, all the attention would be on Miroschnichenko," a Russian scout said during the 2021 U-18 World Hockey Championship. "He's almost underrated in a sense because of the star he plays with in international action."
But more than any prospect, Miroshnichenko has a long road back. He's skating, but he's far removed from proper game action. It's not like he had to overcome an injury -- he battled cancer, and that takes a toll on your body, no matter what.
And that's why seeing him get drafted -- in person, nonetheless -- was a special moment.
"It was an incredible disappointment to see him end his season so early," a European scout said. "He's a special kid. So much potential. It's all about getting back to that level quickly now for him and staying healthy, above all."
With everything going on with Russia, hockey has taken a bit of a back seat. On a human level, though, it's hard not to get excited for Miroshnichenko, who was all smiles during his availability. And he knows the journey ahead is going to be tough, but he was thrilled with where his game was before the diagnosis.
"The season went very well for me until I got sick," Miroshnichenko said through a translator. "I was preparing for (the draft) for the entire season and was playing well before I got sick but obviously I'm really happy where I was selected."
There's definitely a ton of risk with the pick: will he be anywhere near the quality player he was before the diagnosis? Will the Russian factor cause issues getting him over to Washington? Miroshnichenko already had issues obtaining a visa in 2020 when he tried to play with the USHL's Muskegon Lumberjacks.
But the Capitals see something in him, as many did before the spring. He's got a good frame, moves well and scores nearly at will. Miroshnichenko has a tendency to stickhandle himself into trouble, but the right coaching will help him figure that out.
Miroshnichenko will remain in the United States in the meantime, which should allow him to work with Capitals' training staff and doctors before ramping up for the next KHL season. Miroshnichenko plans to return back to Omsk in Russia once he's fully healthy, although you'd have to imagine the organization would be patient with his development.
Miroshnichenko is a true project player for the Capitals, and you never really want that out of a first-round prospect. But Miroshnichenko's situation is different, and the talent is definitely there. Once he's back to full health, goalies will be on full alert like they were before he got sick, and he'll hopefully show why the Capitals were right in taking a gamble on him.