The Vancouver Canucks wasted no time dipping their toes into the free agency period, signing a couple of players over the first few days. One of the bigger deals they made was inking former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Ilya Mikheyev to a four-year contract worth an average annual value (AAV) of $4.75 million. While the cap hit might seem a little higher than expected, Vancouver had their sights set on the 27-year-old native of Omsk, Russia. In Mikheyev, the Canucks are getting speed, scoring, and a penalty kill boost into the lineup.
Mikheyev spent the last three seasons in Toronto, racking up 72 points across 146 games. He truly broke out this past year, scoring a career-high 21 goals and 32 points in 59 games, playing predominantly within the middle six. With everything that Mikheyev brings to the table, it’s going to help the Canucks in a multitude of areas. They’re not just getting a 20-goal scorer, they’re getting a huge boost on special teams, and speed, lots of speed.
He’s Fast, Very, Very Fast
In case the heading didn’t fully put it into perspective, Mikheyev is really fast. He constantly broke free from defenders, creating odd man rushes and breakaway opportunities. Coincidentally, he was able to keep pace with opposing forwards rushing the zone and cause turnovers. The best example of this was back in March of the 2020-21 season, when the Maple Leafs were taking on the Edmonton Oilers.
With the puck in the defensive zone, it’s freed up on the half-wall, but just out of the reach of Oilers captain Connor McDavid. From there, it becomes a 1-on-1 footrace with Mikheyev, who not only keeps up stride for stride with him, but eventually gains body position and give the Maple Leafs a scoring opportunity that started 200 feet from their own zone.
While this is just one example, this is the type of speed Canucks fans can expect Mikheyev to bring on a nightly basis.
Canucks Penalty Kill Will Get a Major Boost
Vancouver for a good stretch of the season was icing one of the worst penalty-kill units in the NHL. Around mid-November, the Canucks were operating at 60.3 penalty-kill percentage (PK%) rate, which was on pace to be the worst rate in a decade when the Devils were only killing 71 percent of the penalty-kill opportunities. With Mikheyev signed for the next four seasons, the Canucks’ penalty kill will get a major boost.
The Maple Leafs were a top-10 penalty-killing unit this past season, ranking eighth in the entire NHL in PK%, killing off 82.05 percent of their opportunities. Vancouver ultimately finished 30th, with a PK% of just 74.89 percent. No, it’s not just one player that will automatically turn Vancouver’s penalty kill into a top-10 unit, but as we mentioned earlier, with Mikheyev’s speed and ability to finish around the net, it will give teams caution when entering the zone or taking chances while set up during the man advantage.
Mikeyev Brings Secondary Scoring Along
In Mikheyev’s first season at the NHL level, he was limited to just 39 games after suffering a wrist injury against the Devils in December of the 2019-20 campaign, but had put up eight goals and 23 points in that span. In fact, prior to his breakout season, he had scored 15 goals combined in his first two seasons. Everything was there, but the scoring touch hadn’t quite come just yet. But after his breakout year, Mikheyev brings secondary scoring to a Canucks team looking for exactly that.
It’s impressive alone that Mikheyev hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career last season. It’s even more impressive that he did it in just 53 games. That projected over and 82-game season amounts to roughly a 32-goal, 50-point pace, which would have been sixth most on the Canucks this past season. For those who think this past season was a one-off, he had similar metrics in his first season as well. In 39 games in 2019-20 season, Mikheyev finished with 23 points, which averages to roughly a 17-goal, 48-point pace over 82 games.
With other deals being made, and the offseason still full of possibilities, the Canucks got their guy early on in Mikheyev. Based on his past production, he should bring a ton of help to a few different areas to Vancouver’s lineup for the next four years.
I’m a London, Ontario based broadcaster and sports writer for the Vancouver Canucks. I’ve done work in the past reporting on the NHL, NBA and MLB. I’ve also covered the OHL including the Owen Sound Attack and am currently involved with the London Knights.