The Toronto Maple Leafs record when it comes to getting contributions from free agents signed out of Europe has been limited. In spite of his struggles the past two seasons after signing a seven-year contract extension that led to his trade to Ottawa on July 1, Nikita Zaitsev was a success story and a legitimate top-six NHL defenseman.
Others such as Nikita Soshnikov, Andreas Borgman, Miro Aaltonen, Calle Rosen, Par Lindholm and Igor Ozhiganov served only as organizational depth in the NHL and with the AHL Toronto Marlies and have either returned to Europe or been traded.
If depth was the sole purpose of these signings, then they could be considered successful, but none other than Zaitsev played a full season with the Leafs or played on anything more than the bottom defensive pairing or fourth line.
That does not appear to be the case for forward Ilya Mikheyev, who signed a one-year entry-level contract with Toronto after leading Avangard Omsk of the KHL in scoring with 45 points (23 G, 22 A) in 62 regular season games.
We shall never forget the price of gasoline in Toronto (probably) said Mike to Micky (Ilya Mikheyev) on his first day in town... So much to be excited for... How’s your Sunday is going??? #tmltalkpic.twitter.com/uXN8REIc0c
Mikheyev was sought after by a number of NHL clubs after thriving as a two-way player his last two KHL seasons, and Leafs head Mike Babcock’s efforts were essential in attracting the 6’2”, 194 lb forward to Toronto, but whether his success translates from Russia to the NHL is anyone’s guess.
Unlike Borgman, Soshnikov, Rosen, Lindholm and Ozhiganov, who saw their playing time diminish later in the season, Mikheyev could be slated for a top-six role at left wing early on, with Patrick Marleau gone and Zach Hyman recovering from off-season knee surgery.
Andreas Johnsson is likely to play once again with Auston Matthews and William Nylander on the top line, and with a good performance at training camp, Mikheyev may start the season in Hyman’s spot with John Tavares, but the question is whether the 24-year-old can seize the opportunity of being a top-six forward or will take on a supporting role once Hyman returns.
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