The Leafs should do everything in their power to keep Ilya Mikheyev

Published April 15, 2022 at 7:52
BY BEN HODGSON
When Ilya Mikheyev requested a trade during last year's off season, he did so because he didn't feel he was being given a big enough role with the team. Rather than acquiescing, the Leafs coaching staff have trusted Mikheyev with more minutes in all situations, and now they are reaping the rewards.

Mikheyev's season started out in nightmare fashion. First, he broke his thumb, needed surgery to repair it and missed 8 weeks, then the league wide COVID-19 outbreak brought the season to a halt just as he was coming back. Since the season resumed though, Mikheyev has been absolutely stellar for the Leafs.

The line of Mikheyev-Kampf-Engvall worked like a charm for the Leafs, consistently winning their minutes against the opposition's top offensive threats. The speed, tenacity and defensive ability of all 3 players made for a line that was exhausting to play against and near impossible to score against. They form a sensational shutdown line for the Leafs.

When WIlliam Nylander's play dipped, Mikheyev finally got his shot in the top-6, and has he ever run with it. His speed and outright refusal to give up on plays works perfectly with John Tavares' grinding style. Since moving up to that line their offensive zone possessions last much longer, and they are much better at retrieving the puck to keep the cycle going.


Perhaps the most impressive part of Mikheyev's game this season has been his shorthanded play. He sits 2nd the league in shorthanded goals with 4. Amazingly, the Leafs have only allowed 5 goals all season with Mikheyev on the ice while shorthanded. They've also scored 5. An even rating while down a man is an impressive stat, and for a team notorious for lacking defensive acumen, it's an incredible accomplishment.

So, how do you keep Mikheyev? The Leafs can't afford a big AAV and, with age, the legs are the first thing to go, so it's difficult to go long-term without regretting it later. Still, if I were in Dubas' shoes, I would offer something close to the Barclay Goodrow contract. 5 years in the $3M-$3.5M range would give Mikheyev a lot of stability, and show the speedy Russian exactly how much the Leafs value his efforts for the blue and white. If Dubas is smart, he will try to lock Mikheyev down before he hits UFA status. Though, I have a feeling if Mikheyev signs outside of Toronto, it's going to be for a bigger number.

In terms of how the Leafs can accommodate that sort of a contract for Mikheyev, the Leafs could consider moving William Nylander this summer to redistribute his nearly $7M AAV elsewhere in the lineup. It would certainly aid the Leafs in re-signing Timothy Liljegren, Rasmus Sandin, Ondrej Kase (if the Leafs want him back after another injury-plagued year), Pierre Engvall, Jack Campbell, Colin Blackwell and Mark Giordano. Not to mention the fact that a William Nylander return would be significant. The Leafs could move the 25-year-old for a young NHL player, a blue chip prospect and a 1st round pick without breaking a sweat.

The Leafs have some very important decisions to make this summer and, in my opinion, re-signing Ilya Mikheyev should be fairly high up on their list. For what he adds to their lineup on a nightly basis, it's a no-brainer.

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