Lacking suspense surrounding the identity of the very first choice, almost all of the mystery surrounding this 2023 draft has crystallized around Matvei Michkov.

Very few teams had had the chance to see him play in person in Russia. The death of his father in troubled circumstances a few months ago plunged the hockey world into a stupor. His three-year contract with SKA Saint Petersburg, in the KHL, raised questions. Would he even make the jump to North America in three years?

In a so-called “normal” draft, he would have been picked in the top three. Perhaps even the first, had it not been for the presence of Connor Bedard in this cuvée.

However, in the circumstances, he was predicted to drop a few ranks. Many observers thought it was for the Washington Capitals. The organization, recognized as Russophile, held the eighth choice. He eventually ended up in Philadelphia.

In his first draft as general manager, Daniel Brière thus took “a big momentum”, which he hopes will become “a home run”.

In a press briefing, at the end of the evening, the Quebecer seemed almost incredulous. “We didn’t believe that a player of this caliber would still be available at the seventh rank,” he explained. We tried to come forward, but the value of the picks skyrocketed on draft day. So we waited, and he fell on us. It was an easy decision. »

Although reports from his scouts in Russia described a “special, exceptional” forward, Brière is not fooled. He knows full well that this choice is not without risk. However, it was the young man himself who convinced Flyers management that he wanted to play in the NHL, particularly in Philadelphia. A first meeting took place in a reduced circle. Faced with the skepticism of recruiters in the face of the enthusiasm of their bosses, a second extended meeting was organized. All these beautiful people have apparently fallen under the spell.

“I don’t know how his interviews went elsewhere,” the GM confessed. But with us, he was fabulous. […] We couldn’t let it pass. Apparently, the team owners weren’t hard to convince.

The young man, however, went on the grill, we are assured. “We asked him some very difficult questions and he gave very satisfying answers,” Brière said. We don’t have anyone like him in the organization. We have been saying for years that we are looking for talented players, with good skills. It was a good chance for us to develop a player who can play that role. »

In his first interview with North American media, Michkov was indeed very enthusiastic about joining the Flyers.

“I wanted this team to draft me,” he repeated more than once. Aided by an interpreter, he offered no certainty about his future, but expressed a wish to “come as soon as [his] contract is over”.

The youngster was asked about the prospect of joining a club which is just beginning a major reconstruction. “I guess that means we’re going to start winning when I get here,” he blurted.

Like all prospects his age, he said he had a dream come true by being drafted by an NHL team. He had a thought for his father. “I think he would be very proud of me, of all the work we’ve done together,” he said.

To the classic question about his idols, rather than talking about Nikita Kucherov or Alexander Ovechkin, he praised his family instead. “My father, my mother, my brother,” he listed. I got here thanks to them. It is important for me to achieve the goal my father set for me. That is, to win the Stanley Cup. »

That’s pretty good, because by choosing him, the Flyers had the same idea.