(Buffalo) Kent Hughes did not slip away: no one at the Canadiens has seen Matvei Michkov play in person this season.

This was indicated by the general manager of the Canadian, Thursday morning, during a press scrum with the journalists present at the evaluation camp of the National League. Hughes spoke to Montreal reporters for about 15 minutes before leaving Buffalo.

Michkov’s name is obviously on everyone’s lips three weeks before the draft, where the Canadian will hold the 5th choice.

The Russian striker is described by many as an extraordinary talent – some see him just behind Connor Bedard – but could slip a few ranks due to the complexity of his file. The main factors: the political situation in Russia, a contract valid for another three years in the KHL, the uncertainty of his coming to North America and a disturbing family history in the wake of the suspicious death of his father.

Added to this is a more difficult gathering of information than for any other player. Hughes said the Canadian has “not yet spoken” to the young man who has scored 20 points in 27 games with HC Sochi this season. “Of course our plan will be to talk to him,” the DG agreed.

And even though CH co-director of amateur scouting Nick Bobrov has Russian nationality, no one within the organization has seen Michkov play in person this season. Hughes himself hasn’t seen him since the Under-18 World Championship in the spring of 2021, when the youngster was 16.

“Ideally, you see it in person, like the others,” admitted Hughes. The videos still give us a certain point. And we have enough people to check his game and his character. Nick is from Russia, but we all have contacts. »

Despite the improved video quality of matches, in-person recruiting remains essential for a majority of scouts. Interactions with teammates and coaches are harder to capture, and several scouts also take notes during warm-ups.

Obviously, the question could be settled in advance for the CH if Michkov is claimed between ranks 1 and 4.

In the halls in Buffalo, a hockey person speculated that the Sharks, who speak at No. 4, are taking a chance on Michkov, if they feel they have a few more years to go before becoming competitive again. San Jose did begin to dismantle its core last year by trading Brent Burns and Timo Meier, but the team still hasn’t filled its prospect pool, with only one top-15 pick in the past seven. latest auctions.

“I wouldn’t say it scares us. But these are factors that will go into the balance. »

Of course, Hughes’ cautious answers could only be a bluff. The idea of ​​transparency is noble, but as the draft approaches, it is less popular. It remains that the points raised by Hughes in front of the microphones will certainly have to be debated internally within many teams.

If the information-gathering for Michkov is flawed, it is quite the opposite for the many high-profile hopefuls that come from the US national development program. The case of Will Smith is particularly striking, since this forward is represented by Quartexx, the firm co-founded by Hughes, and he had the GM of the Canadiens as a minor hockey coach.

“When we interviewed Will, I texted his parents. I couldn’t believe how their lives change in two years. He’s so much more mature compared to when I coached him,” Hughes said.

“I left him at 15, and there, at almost 18, it’s maturity, confidence. It also comes from leaving home, surroundings, and flying on your own,” he added.

Smith, ranked No. 3 North American prospect by the National League Central Scouting, scored 126 points in 59 games in the American national program, forming a thundering line with Gabriel Perreault and Ryan Leonard, two other players expected in first half of the first round.

But like Michkov, Smith could also find a buyer before 5th place.