The Vancouver Canucks were not quite as quiet as they were expected to be on the first day of free agency. They may not have been in on any of the big names but they did nab a medium-sized name, signing Ilya Mikheyev to a four-year deal.
Mikheyev's contract has a cap hit of $4.75 million, which is a little bit more than most were expecting the Canucks to spend. But there's a lot to like about Mikheyev's game and it's intriguing to speculate about where he might fit.
The name of Mikheyev's game is speed. He's legitimately one of the fastest skaters in the NHL and he combines with a 6'2" frame and a willingness to throw hits and battle for pucks. All of that combines to make him a nightmare to play against — when he's not first to the puck, he's throwing a check and stealing it anyway.
Mikheyev's speed and strong two-way game make him a puck possession powerhouse — he's constantly pushing the puck in the right direction, as illustrated by his heat map from HockeyViz.
To go along with his outstanding possession game at 5-on-5, Mikheyev is an effective penalty killer, using his speed and long reach at the top of the zone to disrupt passing lanes. That speed also makes him a threat to score shorthanded — he had four shorthanded goals this past season.
The speed and penalty killing are an immediate upgrade for the Canucks for next season. The question is, what else can Mikheyev bring?
The one knock against Mikheyev in previous years was a lack of finish. He would play up and down the lineup with his complementary game and create all kinds of chances with his hustle, but he just couldn't put those chances in the net.
That changed this past season, as Mikheyev exploded with 21 goals in just 53 games.
That's a 32-goal pace over 82 games after missing a couple of months to start the season with a broken thumb. Getting a potential 30-goal scorer for just $4.75 million, particularly one that plays a dominant possession game and can kill penalties, sounds like a coup for the Canucks.
There are some caveats, however. Mikheyev had a career-high 14.3% shooting percentage this past season — nearly eight points higher than his shooting percentage the previous year. Did he make some major adjustments to improve his shot or did he get a lot luckier this season compared to last season? Can the Canucks expect Mikheyev to score goals at the same rate next season as he did with the Leafs?
Maybe not, but even if he doesn't, Mikheyev is a very useful player. He'll be the engine for whatever line he lands on. The addition of Mikheyev gives the Canucks some strong depth on the wings, suggesting more of a top-nine configuration than the top-six, bottom-six lineup the Canucks have typically used.
Mikheyev is also, by all accounts, an incredibly friendly guy with a fun personality off the ice. He turned his love of soup into a nickname — The Soupman — and a Campbell's Soup commercial. Combined that with his playstyle on the ice and he's sure to quickly become a fan favourite.
He also joins two other Russians on the Canucks in Vasily Podkolzin and Andrei Kuzmenko. With just a few moves, the Canucks have turned themselves into a destination for Russian free agents. That could pay dividends down the road.