Prospect Ramblings: Michkov controversy, CHL trades, Reinbacher, Marchenko, and more

Ben Gehrels

2023-01-11

Cover image: Hockey-news.info

In case you missed it, a few of the Dobber Prospects Editors got together this past weekend on the Fantasy Hockey Life podcast with Victor and Jesse to chat about some of the standouts from the World Juniors. Prospects discussed included Jiri Kulich, Joakim Kemell, Brad Lambert, Lane Hutson, Luke Hughes, Ryan Ufko, Fabian Lysell, Eduard Sale, Filip Mesar, Chaz Lucius, Logan Cooley, Axel Sandin-Pellikka, Julian Lutz, Leo Carlsson, and Adam Sykora.

Listen to it here.

Just a quick aside: I was cheering for Team Canada as a Canadian, obviously, but our conversation on the FHL podcast touched at one point on how it is important to remember that these players we are talking about are still kids. In prospect circles, it can be easy to get caught up purely in numbers and on-ice performance and forget that a kid is 17 years old.

By the same token, I had a mental pep talk with myself ahead of both the Slovakia and Czechia games in the medal rounds to the effect of: look, we absolutely love it when Canada wins Hockey Things internationally. It shows us that we’re still the best at our sport. We lose almost everything else, but hockey is OUR sport. Even more than that, we expect to win, so anything less than gold is considered disappointing.

For other nations, that expectation is certainly not the case. It was a huge deal for Slovakia to reach the quarters and for Czechia to run through the tournament as the top team and make it all the way to overtime in the final game. Part of me would rather see one of them take home top honours—hear me out!—just for the ripple effect that would have on the game in those countries.

I know this sounds suspiciously like me approving the Oilers trading Gretzky to L.A. in the 80s because it helped grow the game south of the border but it helped me feel calmer during those games: at least if we lose, these kids will be absolute heroes back home. They still will be and should be proud of what they accomplished but it is certainly still a David and Goliath situation for international hockey. 

Canada winning gold is a satisfying checkmark; Slovakia or Czechia winning is an exclamation mark.

One of the most surprising players from the WJC was David Reinbacher (2023 eligible). A defenceman from the lowly Austrian squad, he scored two assists in five games—which ended up being the only two goals scored by Austria over the entire event. This was Reinbacher’s second time representing his country at this tournament, and he is currently in the midst of his second season in Switzerland’s National League—an impressive feat for an 18-year-old defender.

He was hamstrung offensively playing for Austria; not much more he could have done other than be involved in 100% of their goals. Where Reinbacher really shined, though, was in 5 vs. 5 Game Score Involvement from Mitch Brown’s Patreon, which measures (as the graphic indicates) “a player’s involvement through offensive, transitional, and defensive contributions, divided by their team’s totals.” Relative to his teammates, in other words, Reinbacher built, fixed, AND drove the bus. Out of all the players in the tournament, he finished seventh in Game Score Involvement.

While there is bound to be user error when manually tracking a wide range of statistics by eye (vs. sensors on jerseys, which is the future), I see a ton of value in work like this—and also from Corey Sznajder who tracks prospect stats in this manner throughout the year and makes the results public on his Patreon. Though the sample size was small, this data gives us a much richer picture of who excelled at this tournament in all the crucial ways that do not show up on the scoresheet.

Fantasy is all about gaining an edge on your opponents, and this type of data feels like one of the clearest edges around. Most poolies check the season-long totals of a given player, watch a clip or two of them scoring or assisting on a goal, and maybe read an article. While gathering a community of voices and perspectives that you trust and can refer to regularly is helpful when forming opinions on young players, there are no firm answers in this business, and data like this provides a critical part of the overall picture.

Back to Reinbacher, check out his specific player card from the WJC. 

Relative to his teammates, he was dominant in transition and on defence while also contributing meaningfully on the offensive end of things. More specifically, he excelled at successfully and consistently turning controlled zone exits and entries into dangerous opportunities via slot passes, boards-to-middle passes, and cross-lane plays. If there is one skill valued above all else in modern defending it might just be the combination of IQ, puck handling, passing, and skating that is required to move the puck effectively in transition like Reinbacher did. What would he have been able to accomplish had he played for literally any other team? 

It will be fascinating to watch him compete for the top defender in the 2023 draft with players like Cameron Allen (the former frontrunner who has fallen off quite badly), Axel Sandin-Pellikka, Mikhail Gulyayev, and Lukas Dragicevic. For a draft that has been billed to be light on high-end defenceman, quite a few intriguing options continue to emerge on the back end.

Sticking with the 2023 draft for a moment, one effect of this WJCs was that the Bedard vs. Fantilli narrative has cooled almost entirely since earlier in the season when Fantilli came out hot in the NCAA and people started realizing Connor Bedard is fairly small-framed (5-10, 185lbs). The new debate is now shifting to how highly to rank the Russian phenom, Matvei Michkov. 

This one inspires big feelings on all sides: some feel he is a generational prospect and that it is patently absurd to shift him down to fourth from third or even second overall, long contract in Russia be damned; others are beginning to document valid concerns about his play that may have been obscured to this point by his firm “future superstar” billing.

Sam McGilligan has done the best job I have seen yet documenting some of the concerns with Michkov—beyond the fact that he is Russian and signed there through the end of 2025-26. 

McGilligan raises an excellent point (among many) in this piece: “I haven’t seen anyone actually detail what this ceiling is and how his play can reach that point.” 

There are tons of clips circulating of Michkov scoring impressive goals, including multiple Michigans, but the narrative of him being a superstar, can’t-miss, generational prospect is definitely a bit self-sustaining. Average fans will likely hold his name up beside Bedard, Fantilli, and Carlsson going into the draft without necessarily knowing why—just that they have heard those names mentioned together, plus so and so says he is good, so he must be good. But what exactly makes him Good and will those skills translate to North America?

My impression at the moment is that he will have a Kirill Kaprizov-level impact when he does cross over to the NHL but that he will fall out of the top five—and perhaps even top ten—by the time everything is said and done. Just to stir the pot a bit further, Will Scouching, a respected name in the online scouting community, currently has Michkov in his fourth tier behind at least 12 players. Read his rankings here.

Let the debate rage on.

There has been an impressive flurry of junior trades post-WJC. Among a long list of notable prospects were Shane Wright (SEA), Olen Zellweger (ANA), Pavel Mintyukov (ANA), Zack Ostapchuk (OTT), and Owen Beck (MON). Most of these trades look absolutely ridiculous because they have the marquee name on one side and a couple players plus like thirteen draft picks on the other.

If you would like to dig into details further, check out this great overview from former Dobber Prospects Managing Editor, Tony Ferrari, now with The Hockey News.

These trades generally don’t impact the fantasy outlook on these prospects other than giving them an opportunity to play a stretch of games and compete for a title with a contender. But they do inspire a legion of witty tweets.

One interesting prospect development to keep an eye on is that two Winnipeg prospects, Chaz Lucius and Brad Lambert, have been reassigned to the WHL for the remainder of 2022-23. Both were previously playing depth roles as rookies in the AHL with Winnipeg’s farm team. Now they will have a chance to play prominent roles against inferior competition. 

Poolies will be hoping that Lambert in particular is able to show something down the stretch for Seattle (WHL), a team built to take home the league title and make a strong push for the Memorial Cup. While AHL competition is admittedly difficult, Lambert has continued to spiral lower and lower on a slow, disappointing trajectory since being drafted after being one of the early favourites for top pick of the 2022 class.

Lambert is increasingly looking like one of these “speed only” players like Carl Hagelin or Andrew Cogliano who impacted the game in other ways than the scoresheet. Not great for fantasy purposes.

Check out Grant Campbell’s game score ratings for NHL rookies in 2022-23. It is a tight race behind Matty Beniers (SEA), who has been in control at the top since the year began, with Mason McTavish (ANA) and Cole Perfetti (WPG) battling for second place.

Most remarkable to me, besides the gritty Wade Allison (PHI) at fourth (!!!), is that Kirill Marchenko (CBJ) is already in the top five despite only playing 17 NHL games this year. After scoring 19 points (eight goals) in only 16 AHL games, Marchenko graduated to the NHL and already has nine goals (no assists) on the year, good for a fourth-place tie with McTavish amongst rookies. Looks like all that KHL seasoning really paid off, hey Michkov doubters?

Great to see someone in Columbus doing something in fantasy. It has been a tough year for poolies who loaded up on Blue Jackets. I know I am not the only one, but I have been burned badly by Elvis Merzlikins being literally the worst goalie in the NHL this year—I loaded up on him in several leagues last year figuring I was buying low. I am still holding out hope, but it has been a tough slog.


Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @beegare for more prospect content and fantasy hockey analysis.

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