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Ilya Mikheyev asked for a trade

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The Leafs said no.

Vancouver Canucks v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

Last night, in a story about Jack Eichel, Elliotte Friedman stuck in a little bit about Ilya Mikheyev. The whole story is the headline and dek. He asked for a trade, the Leafs said no.

According to several sources, Toronto winger Ilya Mikheyev asked for a trade following the 2020-21 season. But, what is important to the story is that the Maple Leafs made it clear they do not want to accommodate this request. With Zach Hyman and Joe Thornton gone from the left wing, the organization told Mikheyev it considers him a key part of their team and are counting on him to have a big year.

I thought it might be fun to take a break from prospect season, where it’s all faith, hope and wishes, and talk about an NHL player with some facts to back it up. Friedman goes on to offer his own take:

He had seven goals and 17 points in 2020-21, going pointless in the playoffs. He’s a talented guy, and if he could get his shooting percentage higher (6.5 last season), it could be a real breakthrough for him and the team.

Which is my reminder that until training camp is over, it still is all about wishes and dreams and “if only he was better, he’d be better” tautologies.

How exactly does one go about getting their shooting percentage higher? Stop squeezing the stick is the standard locker room double entendre that seems to imply it’s all about trying and caring, and we’ve neatly ignored variance or randomness or luck — whatever you want to call it — and have created an imaginary ordered universe.

There is one thing Mikheyev can do. He can stop shooting like this:

HockeyViz

The trouble is, he shot just like that the prior year when he was so super good according to his points. This isn’t bad, to be clear. Which is the endless argument about the Leafs:

“He’s not very good.”

“What do you mean? He’s not bad!”

“No, but he isn’t very good.”

The Leafs aren’t bad. This isn’t the old days, but there are many players who really aren’t good enough for the bigger roles they seem to want, as Mikheyev does. Or Kyle Dubas wants to give them. Mikheyev is not going to sink the team if he gets off the third line and his sub 15 minutes a game. He’s also not going to make an impact unless he gets lucky. If his percentage goes up much, it’s going to be down to luck because he’s not a kid or a prospect or new to the NHL and he’s very unlikely to suddenly start making good choices about when to shoot the puck. Players almost never do.

I know, I know. I said “almost” so get out the black paint and catch a swan.

In his two seasons at even strength, he had Individual Expected Goals per 60 minutes (Evolving Hockey) of .77 and .75. His Expected Sh% on unblocked shots was 5.12 and 6.87. That better number is last year. He shot a little less often, from a little bit better locations and ended up with exactly the same overall impact off his own stick. His actual numbers were 4.58% and 5.83%.

That’s it, that’s his two years with such different feels to them, exactly the same off the penalty kill. If you really love points, then consider his Goals per 60 was .69 and .64 those two seasons. The big difference was in assists.

Points lie.

As you know, Mikheyev shoots a lot on the PK, and that’s fun, but it rarely results in goals, and it’s just not a thing he should ever be criticized for. He’s eating the clock, which is his job.

The only hope for improvement in his personal results that isn’t hoping for the bounces to go his way more than he deserves is that in his first season, he seems to have had a decent impact on overall offence on the ice. The plausible explanation is that he couldn’t influence his teammates to greater heights this past season because they just weren’t good enough to make the climb.

For the Leafs, he’s not a key part of the team (I wonder if he’s in the best shape of his life, though?) he’s actually just a useful insurance winger. My advice is to not hope for his personal shooting to change, but maybe his luck might. Maybe he’ll seem better again, as he stays exactly the same.