He was on track to play before the end of March, according to his agent Dan Milstein, who could even challenge the minimum calendar issued after having an artery and tendons on his right wrist cut by a skate blade in the first game. after Christmas.
Instead, Mikheyev’s plans were paused by COVID-19 – something that we can now consider to be a disguised blessing.
While most NHL players rushed home out of season for months of limited physical activity, he stayed where he was. There was not really a passing thought given to returning to Russia to spend time with friends and family.
“We never discussed it,” said Milstein on Tuesday. “He never stopped rehabilitating. ”
This explains why Mikheyev made such a strong impression during the first two days of the Leafs’ summer training camp. You would never know that he has not changed course since that frightening night in New Jersey where Jesper Bratt’s skate accidentally cut him or that he spent months without being able to properly grasp his stick to allow tend to heal after surgery.
Mikheyev and Jake Muzzin, recovering from a broken hand, were granted a special exemption for the Leafs to recover from their injuries during the break. They continued to use the training center until the end of March, April and May and jumped directly into small group training sessions with their teammates from June 8.
That didn’t leave them with any rust to fall off as the NHL got back on track.
In fact, all indications are that Mikheyev has added new dimensions to his game while jumping straight into a prime-time location alongside John Tavares and Mitch Marner.
“It was quite revealing to watch,” said Marner. “How fast it really is and even better in my opinion.”
“Shooting is important,” added head coach Sheldon Keefe. “The way the puck comes out of his stick, especially after the pass, is impressive.”
Given the severity of Mikheyev’s injury and the fact that it affected the hand he uses to grab the top of his stick, you would never have expected him to improve his release. But there was also nothing to predict the seven months of additional skating he would get since the last game, many of which were spent alongside Leafs skills consultant Denver Manderson.
He also won the favor of teammates by his approach to the off-ice regime established by the force coaches. Jason Spezza said, “there are a lot of guys cheering [Mikheyev] play well ”after seeing his level of commitment.
“He’s a guy I admire,” said Spezza, who has 1,084 more NHL games in his resume. “He worked and he worked throughout this period. He worked when he was not sure he could come back. It is really impressive, the dedication to the game, and I think there is a lot of respect for him in this locker room. ”
A moment that stood out came when Mikheyev and Muzzin joined the team on the road for their California swing in early March. A few hours before training at the Los Angeles Kings suburban complex during this trip, these two were behind the ice for sprints and other weight training.
Muzzin howled with encouragement. He absolutely loved what he saw.
“I talked to Muzz a lot when they were injured together and he kept saying” This Mikheyev is a monster and he turns into an animal in the gym and on the ice, “said Marner.
By the time he was injured, it seemed so unfortunate that it had happened just as Mikheyev was making his way to North America. He had spent the previous four seasons in the KHL and reacted well to a recent breakthrough in the Toronto top six, scoring four goals in
six games when his wrist severed.
But as it turned out in this weirdest year, as the Leafs are now preparing for a game of five against Columbus in mid-summer, Mikheyev may be ready to make an even bigger impact than before. In addition to the 5 to 5 important minutes that he will see with two of the biggest attacking stars of the team, Keefe makes him tab to kill the penalties.
We thank the 25-year-old NHL rookie for putting himself in a position to win a high role.
Even when it was unclear whether the season could be saved in the middle of the pandemic, Mikheyev continued to grind through training sessions and ice sessions while looking for any news that told him it was not maybe not for nothing.
“He was hungry for information,” said agent Milstein. “He said” When can we start playing? When can we start playing? When do the playoffs start? ”
“He missed hockey so much.”