During his meeting with the media in Buffalo on June 8, Kent Hughes blew hot and cold about Matvei Michkov.

While recalling that the organization has “contacts” in Russia to carry out checks on the scheming attacker, Hughes also raised some caveats. Among others:

“We have to evaluate him first as a player, and compare him with the other big prospects,” Hughes recalled. Words that make sense, because it is a process that is done for every hope. But Hughes was addressing the Montreal market on the one hand, a market that is igniting the possibility that such talent will be available at number five. On the other hand, he was indirectly addressing his fellow GMs, who are trying to read his intentions in the huge game of poker that is the repechage.

In recent days, several general managers have in turn addressed the media in view of the draft. And it was interesting to see how their speech differed from that of the CEO of the Canadian. They indeed seemed less quick to raise warnings.

Note, however, that the Blues will be talking 10th; barring a cataclysm, it would be surprising if Michkov was still available.

“Obviously the political climate is different,” Armstrong agreed, via videoconference Wednesday. The top-rated player has a long-term contract and I’m guessing he’s going to honor it. And we haven’t seen him in person. But in general, these players are so far from playing in the NHL that I would not be afraid to draft one. »

Armstrong does not speak without knowledge. In 2010, when he made the transition to GM, the Blues selected Vladimir Tarasenko 16th overall, at a time when the Russians often tumbled in the draft for fear of being retained in the KHL. Tarasenko finally joined the Blues two years later. By his second season, the dynamic winger had scored 21 goals in 64 games and was establishing himself as an impact player.

“When I started, we didn’t even think about bringing in Europeans until they played for their national team and had success with their professional team,” Armstrong recalled. . You let them develop and they got to 23, 24. But now, with full autonomy at 27, the process is accelerated, because you have their rights for a limited time. »

Armstrong conveniently ignores the fact that at the top of the table teams can usually call for players who can help them out quickly. From the 2021 draft, for example, four of the top five players drafted (Owen Power, Matty Beniers, Mason McTavish and Kent Johnson) had prominent roles in the NHL last season, a year after they were drafted. The other player of the quintet, Luke Hughes, arrived at the New Jersey Devils at the end of the season.

It was Ivan Miroshnichenko, in 20th place. This striker will play in North America next year. Some will say that with Alexander Ovechkin as captain, the Capitals have their entries in Russia to defuse delicate situations.

“I’ve seen what people are writing about the contract,” Mahoney admitted, also on video. But it happens that players, in Russia or elsewhere, hold a contract of two or three years.

“To me, it’s like drafting a player from Saskatoon into the WHL. This player can still spend two years in junior, will probably play a season or two at Hershey [the Capitals’ academy club], and suddenly it’s the same as if he had a four-year contract before coming to play for We. So these contract issues don’t really influence us. »

Still, teams that draft a Russian early, whether it’s Michkov, forward Daniil But or defender Dmitry Simashev, will do so with more limited data than prospects playing in other countries.

“Everything is stopped. So we rely a lot on our recruiters there and their contacts, admitted Doug Armstrong. Also, they did not participate in the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, the U18 Worlds, the Canada-Russia Series. That’s a lot of missed opportunities to see them play in person, talk to them, and get to know them. Maybe it’s more like we did before the end of the Cold War! »

“Kenny Hoodikoff, our scout in Russia, has met these players and often seen them play in person,” Daniel Briere, new Flyers GM, told Philadelphia media. We also spent a lot of time analyzing them on video. »

Two weeks ago, Hughes said he had a “plan” to speak to Michkov in person in Nashville. Briere, who will speak seventh, said he believes he will be “lucky to meet him” before the draft. As for Ross Mahoney, he remained evasive about the Capitals’ plans, claiming that they were “not finalized”. The proceedings remain opaque, however, and Michkov’s agent did not respond to messages from La Presse seeking clarification.

The rest of the soap opera in the coming days in Nashville.