Another international break has come and gone, and a bit of history was made.
On Nov. 11, 2023 NHL draft phenom Matvei Michkov became the youngest player to ever suit up for Russia's men's national team when he made his debut at the age of 16 years, 11 months and two days old. Alexander Ovechkin had the previous record among forwards at 17 years, 11 months and 15 days, with goaltender Vladislav Tretiak holding the overall team record at 17 years, seven months and eight days.
Sure, the Karjala Cup wasn't an IIHF event and Russia was using it more for developmental purposes, but Michkov, a top 2023 NHL draft prospect, belonged there. And it's yet another accolade in an ocean of praise sent Michkov's way at such a young age.
If you haven't followed his career, here's a bit of a recap: Michkov potted 56 points in 56 games as a 16-year-old in the Russian U-20 division last year, the best ever by a U-16 player in that league. He then had one of the best U-18 World Championship performances in tournament history, recording 12 goals and 16 points in seven games en route to a silver. He had a slightly slower tournament at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup in August, scoring just eight goals and 13 points before making his KHL debut in September. In just his third game, while playing in a middle-six role, he had two goals and three points against Admiral Vladivostok.
So, naturally, Russia wanted to keep him active during the international break. Not with the U-18 team, but with the "men's" team. The Karjala Cup, part of the Euro Hockey Tour, is traditionally played by men's teams, but Russia has elected to send a mostly junior-powered squad the past two years. For Russia, it was a good chance to get Michkov involved playing against older competition, and while he didn't have a ton to do on the scoresheet and didn't get a ton of important minutes, Michkov did get the goal of the tournament.
Michkov has become known for his ability to pull off lacrosse-style goals, something he did on multiple occasions at the U-18 World Championship. But his lone goal at the Karjala Cup came after he picked up the bouncing puck behind the net and shoved it over Swedish netminder Gustaf Lindvall. It's a goal scouts have come accustomed to, and Michkov never seems to struggle to pull it off.
"He didn't need to play much to catch your attention," a Russian-based scout said. "He worked hard, made scoring chances and didn't seem to shy away from more experienced competition."
Michkov doesn't need the flash to excel, although it definitely helps set him apart because of the pace he can pull moves off at. But he's got an overall game that many kids don't have in their teen years: he's dominant with the puck, attacks defenders when he wants it back and doesn't struggle against older, stronger competition.
And while it's still early, Michkov has shown once again why he's Connor Bedard's biggest threat to go No. 1 at the 2023 NHL draft – a class with high-end talent up the wazoo. Michkov's exploits on the international stage has put everyone on notice, and while he has a KHL contract until 2024-25, the team that takes him is getting a special talent.
"He's got a bit of Pavel Datsyuk and Nikita Kucherov in him," a Russian scout told TheHockeyNews.com during the U-18 World Championship. "He's got hands like the Magic Man and the offensive instincts of Kuch. Michkov is as close to a sure thing as it gets among Russian prospects.
Some might say it's too early to pump up Michkov the way he's been hyped, but the numbers don't lie. Michkov is proving to be a special talent and is only going to continue getting better. The Russian World Junior Championship team has a history of not giving its youngest players many opportunities, but Michkov is no ordinary young forward. Michkov should be there when Russia heads to Alberta for the 2022 iteration before being a leading member of the team in 2023.
His journey has only just begun.