Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock forecast his team would get bigger. And in the last two deals announced by general manager Kyle Dubas, it has.
The Leafs signed Russian forward Ilya Mikheyev to a one-year entry level deal Monday, days after adding Egor Korshkov to the organization. It remains to be seen if the two can play at the NHL level — Korshkov has joined the Marlies for their AHL playoff run — but, if they can, the six-foot-two Mikheyev and the six-foot-four Korshkov will make the Leafs’ forward units bigger.
Mikheyev, 24, had 23 goals and 45 points in 62 games for the KHL’s Avangard Omsk last season, and added another four goals and 11 points in 13 playoff games.
“On a superstar line, you need to have a guy like (Mikheyev),” agent Dan Milstein said of his client. “He plays 200 feet of ice, a guy who’ll go get the puck, support the puck. He’s a power guy who’s going to make everybody else around him look good.”
It turns out it was Babcock, whose job security with the Leafs seems in doubt these days, who was instrumental in signing Mikheyev after Vegas and Chicago made solid offers.
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“A lot of teams showed interest, virtually all teams,” Milstein said. “Ilya decided on Toronto. It was Mike Babcock who built a relationship with him and was communicating with him the last year. Mike went to the world championship and watched him play last year. And it was Mike and Jim Paliafito (the Leafs’ senior director of player evaluation) and the scouting staff who kept in close communication with Ilya over the past year.
“There were other exceptionally great offers that were available. But in the end it was a personal choice. He wants to be coached by Babcock.”
Milstein said some of his other clients — defencemen Igor Ozhiganov and Nikita Zaitsev and former Detroit forward Pavel Datsyuk — encouraged Mikheyev either to come to Toronto or, in Datsyuk’s case, play for Babcock.
“Pavel’s encouragement and Nikita’s advice played a role, but also the relationship built over the past year.”
Dubas declined to be interviewed by the Star regarding the signing. In a quote from Dubas supplied by the team’s media relations department, the GM praised Paliafito but made no mention of Babcock’s role.
“We are very appreciative of the time and effort that Jim Paliafito has put in to scouting and developing a relationship with Ilya,” Dubas said. “Jim has done an excellent job here again working with Ilya to showcase how the Leafs can help him reach his potential.”
While Korshkov was a Leafs draft pick, Mikheyev was a free agent after playing for the KHL’s Avangard Omsk alongside former Leafs Cody Franson and Victor Stalberg.
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The Leafs have mined the KHL and European leagues for veteran free agents with various levels of success the past few years, led by Zaitsev, who joined Toronto in 2016. Swedish defencemen Calle Rose and Andreas Borgman, signed in 2017, are still with the Marlies. Ozhiganov is expected to return to the KHL after one season with the Leafs.
Korshkov and Mikheyev will come in at manageable salaries that will give the Leafs some cap flexibility, as well as options in case negotiations with restricted free agents Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson become problematic.
Dubas seemed excited about Mikheyev. “Ilya has really developed the last two seasons with an excellent organization in Omsk,” the GM said in a quote supplied by the Leafs’ media relations department. “His teammates there, who played in the NHL, speak very highly about his character and work ethic. Ilya is a left-shot right winger who shows the consistent ability to drive play into the offensive zone and create offence for himself and his linemates. He’s a competitive player and we look forward to working with him and helping him reach his potential.”
Kevin McGran is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @kevin_mcgran
Published at Mon, 06 May 2019 16:34:04 +0000