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Maple Leafs rumoured to be after KHL RW Ilya Mikheyev

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The Leafs have also been linked to centre Sergei Andronov.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 16
Andronov with his Olympic medal.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This story starts with cracks in the foundation, literal and metaphorical. After years of dominating the KHL to an extreme degree with a team stacked with so many players, they didn’t have room to play them all, SKA St. Petersburg was merely very good this season. They lost Ilya Kovalchuk to the Kings, Pavel Datsyuk might finally be showing his age, and they had tough competition in attracting former NHLers moving to the KHL.

The literal cracks happened in Omsk, where the new arena suddenly started to fall apart, and the team, Avangard, had to find a new place to play. Omsk is likely beloved by the people who live there, but right near the Kazakhstan border is a hard sell to players used to the bright lights of NHL cities. But Avangard played in a Moscow suburb this season under head coach Bob Hartley.

Suddenly Avangard, and perennial SKA rival CSKA Moscow were bidding on all the NHLers and building up teams for deep playoffs runs. They both succeeded, and they played each other in the final, which was won in a four-game sweep by CSKA.

These two teams, arguably the best in the KHL, both had storybook seasons with great performances, lots of wins and the sort of synergy that comes on a team that just seemingly can’t be beat. And those teams, like SKA of years gone by, produce players with gaudy-looking points stats. Remember Vadim Shipachyov?

But what does this have to do with the Leafs?

Igor Eronko has reported that the Leafs are interested in a player from Avangard, and one from CSKA.

These are two very different players.

Ilya Mikheyev

Ilya Mikheyev is a right wing who led Avangard in points this season, and upped his points pace for the playoffs. This wasn’t his fist ever big year, it was his second after last season, but prior to that his transition from his high-scoring junior days in the MHL to the pro leagues seemed a little stalled. He is only 24, so it’s possible to imagine he is at his peak, or could possibly improve a little. He turns 25 this fall, but after September 15, so he would be required to sign a one-year ELC.

There are two other intriguing things about Mikheyev. He shoots left, so he might not be locked into playing on the right side, and he isn’t the prototypical small, zippy winger who gets by on speed and playmaking. He’s 6’2” for a start, and his points are now, and have always been about 50/50 goals to assists. If that sounds familiar, that is the unusual scoring pattern of Auston Matthews. That’s a shooter’s points pattern.

The Leafs aren’t the only team after Mikheyev:

The days of thinking Russian FAs are a market inefficiency only the Leafs can exploit are long gone. As Eronko explains in his twitter feed, everyone has scouts over there now, and the KHL salary cap is going to become a little more real soon, and players might find the days of making more money in Russia are long gone.

The other player the Leafs are thought to be looking at seems superficially like a better fit for the open spots on the team. Sergei Andronov is turning 30 this summer, so there’d be no ELC for him. He was CSKA’s captain last season, which makes him a certified Good Pro™, and he is also a big-ish centre who plays a tougher game to Mekheyev.

Andronov did not lead his team in points this year. Mikhail Grigorenko did — recall, he is the player who could not crack the NHL in Buffalo or Colorado. Andronov’s 12 points puts him firmly in the “just there to take the faceoff and forecheck” role.

Interestingly Andronov had a try in North America once before, and he has two unexciting years in the AHL to show for it.

One really interesting feature of his game is he fairly low penalty minutes, particularly this season, something he managed in the whistle-happy AHL.

Will either of these players end up in blue and white? They might, but if it was a slim chance for Miro Aaltonen to ever make the Leafs, these days it’s even harder. I’d bet more on Andronov than Mikheyev, but you never know what holes will open up in the roster once the offseason is here.

Bring on the free agents!