Fantasy Impact: The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed undrafted 24-year-old winger Ilya Mikheyev to a one-year contract worth a reported $925,000 (the maximum entry-level contract).
The Leafs get: one of the better goal-scoring wingers in the KHL, and a player who has not yet entered his prime. Mikheyev followed up a 19-goal season for Avangard Omsk by posting 23 goals and 45 points in 62 games to lead the team in scoring. It was also enough to finish tied for 20th in the league for points and tied for sixth in goals (Minnesota prospect Kirill Kaprizov finished first with 30 goals, while former NHLer Nigel Dawes was second with 28).
Fantasy Players Impacted: The Leafs have three very good forwards who are on the rise who are restricted free agents this summer: Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson. The Leafs have what will probably be about $8.5 million in cap space, depending on where the new cap is set. With Nathan Horton going on LTIR again next year, that number becomes closer to $14 million. Some hockey prognosticators and Leaf analysts are wondering if Marner will command $11 million per season. I actually wonder if it will be $12. Some hockey prognosticators and Leaf analysts wonder (and in some cases – hope) if Kapanen and Johnsson would settle for bridge contracts and keep the number closer to $3 million. I actually wonder if it will be $6. Each. The William Nylander fiasco from a year ago set the tone on contract negotiation within the organization and pretty much put the kibosh on the whole idea of bridge deals. The Maple Leafs may end up having to clear as much $10 million from the books and "just trade Patrick Marleau" or "just trade Nikita Zaitsev" isn't something that can be done by snapping fingers. To trade a player away there needs to be a demand for that player. And do you know which players there is a demand for? Marner, Nylander, Kapanen and Johnsson. And Nazem Kadri. Mark my words two of these players will be gone, and adding a promising pro forward from the KHL will make it easier for that to happen. I would add Connor Brown to this list, but $2 million won't even make a dent in the team's cap needs. Don't forget, the Leafs also need to replace Jake Gardiner and Igor Ozhiganov (who will return to the KHL next year) and re-sign or replace Ron Hainsey.
It will be an interesting summer to say the least and because of the cap crunch there will be some low-salary players who will literally have to play their way off the roster rather than on it. Mikheyev is one of those players. And with the possibility of Auston Matthews or John Tavares to play with, there is intriguing upside here. With Omsk, Mikheyev played with the likes of (former Vancouver prospect) Sergei Shirokov, former NHLer David Desharnais and former Leafs Cody Franson and Viktor Stalberg.
Read our scouting profile on Mikheyev here!
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