Maple Leafs should consider trading Ilya Mikheyev


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Related: Toronto Maple Leafs Must Sign Long-Term Ilya Mikheyev

One of the things I’ve noticed recently is that there seems to be a movement among Toronto Maple Leafs fans for Ilya Mikheyev to be traded. Although his salary cap appears to be a measly $ 1.65 million, there is a group of fans who have come to believe that after two difficult seasons he just hasn’t performed well enough to warrant him. keep. In fact, three days ago, Editor in Leafs’ Stephen Nixon suggested that Mikheyev should be one of three players in the Maple Leafs commercial block.

To be clear on my position

To be clear, I have a different opinion. I believe Mikheyev is a trusted Maple Leafs player who may someday be worthy of the Selke Trophy. In fact, I think he’s set to put on a solid 2021-22 season where he could score over 20 goals. I predict it will – except for head coach Sheldon Keefe continuing to throw Mikheyev over the boards in a variety of difficult situations.

Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy irvin / The writers of hockey)

Not that the 26-year-old Russian shines in all of these situations, but who would? Yet to me that suggests the coaching staff trust him so much that he finds himself in the most difficult situations of any forwards on the team. It doesn’t help his numbers at all.

Sportsnet’s Justin Bourne noted in an article last season, Mikheyev “has been given a pretty darn tough assignment this season (which in itself shows the team trusts him) and (a) has done well.”

Bourne continued that Mikheyev “received a lot and mostly loses the statistical battle in these minutes, but someone has to dirty the barn for the farm to function properly”.

Take calls to trade Mikheyev seriously

Still, putting my bias aside, I want to consider whether Mikheyev should be traded. Let me start with a bit of history. Mikheyev has been a success story in the KHL, which doesn’t always happen to KHL players. In this Mikheyev was an exception.

Related: The NHL 500 Goals Club

He also plays a “Canadian style,” which most fans love. By that I mean he works hard all over the rink. He will play solid defense. He is a disruptor, which skates like the wind. He is also a physical player who rushes to the net; and, on top of all that, he doesn’t rip off the team with his salary. Canadians like me love it about him. [Ask Mitch Marner what it feels like to be overpaid.]

It’s also hard not to like a young man with an endearing personality who isn’t afraid to speak hesitant Russian and English. He took Toronto fans by storm early on with his innocent questions about why Canadians don’t like soup. Plus, how can we not feel sorry for him after he suffered a horrific wrist injury from a skate and had to work hard to recover? He came back from that injury, maybe not completely, but well enough to play and contribute.

Mikheyev’s Story with the Maple Leafs

In Mikheyev’s rookie season (2019-20), he started well scoring eight goals and 23 points in 39 games. But December’s wrist injury completely interrupted his game and stunted his growth. This injury forced him to miss half of the 2019-20 season; but, until that injury, Mikheyev was on pace for a 16-goal season. For an NHL rookie from the KHL, those numbers were promising.

After his first season injury, Mikheyev returned for 2020-21 but only scored 17 points in 54 games. However, he played efficiently, with the exception of part of his game. He just couldn’t put the puck in the net. It looked like his great defense, especially on the shorthanded, created at least one fumble every game. But he wasn’t often able to push the puck past the goalie.

Mikheyev had his chances, but it took him a month to score his first goal. His shooting percentage was horrible. In his rookie season, he played 39 games and scored eight goals on 98 shots (for a shooting percentage of 8.2). However, in 54 games last year, he scored seven goals on 107 shots, but his shooting percentage fell to 6.5 percent.

Is Mikheyev’s shooting percentage a problem?

This percentage of shots seems to be at the heart of Mikheyev’s problems. Dimitri Filipovic from Sportsnet reports that most NHL players average between 10 and 11% and that “the league’s average conversion rate for forwards tends to hover between 10 and 11% in any given campaign.”

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Part of the reason Mikheyev’s shot was about half average was because he was playing on a defensive stop line where the focus was not on scoring. I have to believe that if Mikheyev’s role was to create more offense, he would probably do better. But who knows?

I also have to wonder if his wrist, which is probably structurally completely healed, is as good as it will be this season and will be in the future. I suppose not. But, again, who knows?

Toronto Maple Leafs Ilya Mikheyev Alexander Kerfoot Morgan Rielly Rasmus Sandin
Toronto Maple Leafs right winger Ilya Mikheyev, center Alexander Kerfoot, defenseman Morgan Rielly and defenseman Rasmus Sandin celebrate a goal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Christopher Katsarov)

Most hockey experts believe his shooting percentage should increase on average as his career progresses. Still, that too is speculation and maybe Mikheyev’s shooting percentage will always be below average throughout his career. Still, shooting seems to be an area where practice makes perfect; and you have to believe that the Maple Leafs coaching staff knows this and is dedicated to helping Mikheyev improve.

Imagine a Mikheyev with a higher shot percentage

If you’re a Maple Leafs fan, can you imagine the excitement Mikheyev could bring to the arena if he could double his shooting percentage? Considering practice, greater opportunities to play in offensive situations and a return to full physical health for his wrist (here I admit I’m guessing from my own experience with injuries), some of those many breakaway chances might soon start to hit the back of the net.

As I noted to start the post, I recently encountered a push to trade Mikheyev. It would surely be possible. His salary cap of $ 1.65 million is far from expensive. His speed and defense are appealing, and there’s no doubt that many other NHL teams would jump at the chance to take him and put him to work – in situations similar to how the Maple Leafs did. use.

So what’s the answer? Should the team trade Mikheyev?

The only fly in the ointment is the expiration of Mikheyev’s contract. He will become a 27-year-old UFA at the end of the season. Given the team’s salary cap issues, the team may fear losing it for nothing – much like the organization has done with other internal hires.

Considering all of these things, should the Maple Leafs trade Mikheyev now? The key depends on whether the organization thinks Mikheyev is part of its future plans. He will probably deserve and order more money on the open market. Ergo, if he doesn’t fit with the Maple Leafs’ long-term future, maybe now is the time to move him.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Mikheyev Arbitration Could End Badly

Given that Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas already has starter Pierre Engvall and recently signed Michael Bunting and Nick Ritchie as potential left wingers, Mikheyev’s days might be numbered. As I noted, $ 1.65 million doesn’t sound like a lot, but if Bunting can play Mikheyev’s place for $ 700,000 less, it could be a big enough difference.

The bottom line for me is that while I hope Mikheyev won’t be traded, I also don’t want him to become another internal rental. If he’s not part of the team’s future, it’s probably time for him to move.


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