Why Can’t Ilya Mikheyev Score?

Ilya Mikheyev is truly one of the more fascinating players the Leafs have. After a few solid seasons in the KHL, Kyle Dubas was impressed enough to get Mikheyev to North America on a 1-year deal. He immediately repaid the faith Dubas showed in him scoring in his first game as a Leaf and quickly became a fan favourite in Leafs nation after uttering three famous words “I like soup.”

Mikheyev was having a great year in 19/20 for the Leafs with 23 points in 39 games. He was doing it in all situations too, but just as he was starting to form some chemistry with John Tavares and William Nylander, he got his wrist sliced open by an opponent’s skate. A genuine freak injury. Coming into this season, many wondered how the injury would affect Soup’s shot, which wasn’t exactly a rocket beforehand. Through 21 games, I think it’s fair to say the shot could use some work. Mikheyev has gotten chance after chance yet only has two goals this year. However, can we blame it all on the wrist? Is Mikheyev just doomed to miss a ton of chances every year because he’s got a floppy wrist? I’m not entirely sure that he is, which is why I did a deep dive into what Ilya Mikheyev is doing right and what he’s doing wrong when it comes to scoring goals. 

What The Stats Tell Us

According to Evolving-Hockey, Ilya Mikheyev is 8th in the Leafs in individual expected goals at 3.21. Other analytical sites have a higher number, but for full transparency, we’ll use that figure. 2 goals from 3.21 ixG is a combination of bad luck and, in some players’ case, a lack of skill. For example, Auston Matthews has 18 goals this season, yet his ixG is 9.59, albeit an extreme case because it is Auston Matthews, but you get the point. Here’s another example, Wayne Simmonds has five goals this year with an ixG of roughly 2.5. He’s making the most of his chances and has gotten some good luck. Mikheyev ranks 6th on the Leafs in scoring chances and 7th in high danger chances but still has just two goals. Combined with just some bad puck luck, I think there are some changes Mikheyev can make to his game to give himself better opportunities to score, and there are players on the Leafs he should be studying specifically. Let’s take a look at Soup’s shot chart for this year and last.

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Look at all those shots from above the hash marks or from outside the faceoff dots. You’re just not going to score from there consistently, if at all, but even going back to last year, Ilya has loved to take those shots. Soup’s shooting percentage is 3.9% and it’s not hard to see why when you gander at his shot chart. There’s something to be said for just getting pucks on, but he needs to try to be more patient in a lot of these situations and get to better areas around the crease. We all know where most of the goals in the NHL are scored, and so does Mikheyev. He needs to look no further than two of his teammates, Zach Hyman and Simmonds, for tips on how to score in the NHL when you don’t have a wicked wrister or a Laine-like one-timer. 

Here is Hyman’s chart for the past two seasons.

The difference between the two is evident for anyone to see. Hyman’s chart is littered with chances right on top of the crease or just outside it, and that’s pretty much it other than a few shots from just outside the dots. Hyman scored 21 goals last year and was scoring at around a 35 goal pace over 82 games. As any Leaf fan will tell you, he isn’t skilled, but he’s smart, and he knows where to be; that’s half the battle right there. 

Finally, the man who made his career on scoring goals without exactly having a shot to write home about, Wayne Simmonds

Through just 12 games this year, you already can tell what Simmonds role is on the Leafs and what he does best. Simmonds is still 6th on the Leafs in HDCF despite being out for the past two weeks. He owns the home plate area in front of the net, and he’s been getting rewarded this year, as his goal tally shows.

Again, not every shot from outside the home plate area is terrible. Soup just takes too many especially considering the fact his shot is about as strong as mine at the moment. I think Mikheyev is a really intelligent player, and there’s no reason his shot chart shouldn’t be filled with big blob after big blob near the net.

What Our Eyes Tell Us

I was honestly surprised that Mikheyev’s numbers were what they were. I’m sure if you went back and watched every Mikheyev chance this year, you would’ve thought his ixG was at least over four and probably closer to five, but that’s why you can’t only trust your eyes. However, we can use our eyes to see why Mikheyev’s shooting strategy, or lack thereof, is part of the reason he only has scored twice this year. Here are a few examples of what I mean.

What I gather from this clip is that Soup either doesn’t really have a plan when he gets a breakaway, or he’s overthinking, and so he decides to just do something simple and get it on net.

Hellebuyck is pretty deep in his net here, so shooting isn’t a bad play, but he shoots it right at his chest. Maybe he was trying to go five-hole, and he just missed his spot, but rewatching his chances from this year, it seems like a theme.

Here’s yet another clip of Mikheyev just shooting it directly at the goaltender.

Look, I’m not the one to tell Mikheyev what to do, clearly, he’s in the NHL, and I’m just writing about silly things like this. But I think he’s got to try a few different things when he gets chances like this. The first thing he might want to focus on is getting the goalie to move slightly and change the angle of his attack. When you come in on a straight line and just fire it, it’s a lot easier for the goalie to read than changing the angle before you shoot. Auston Matthews is really good at this, making it seem like he will shoot it one way before sliding it five-hole.

Not every chance Mikheyev has missed has been his fault, though. 

This is what I want to see Mikheyev do more, and he’s unlucky not to have scored here. You can see just from this clip that he has decent hands and sound awareness. He just needs to use them more. 

The Injury

I wasn’t able to find any substantial evidence regarding players’ performance after they suffer injuries like Mikheyev. I was able to find that players who fracture or break their wrists are not affected by their injury a year after a fact; their performance level doesn’t change from what it was previously. Mikheyev’s injury is much worse and different from just a regular wrist fracture, but I think that he and we can be hopeful that he will eventually get his wrist strength back to what it once was.

Mikheyev’s last goal before the injury last year proves at the very least he has a decent shot at full strength!

So to sum up what we’ve learned, Mikheyev’s sheer inability to score this year is partly down to just plain old hockey luck, as well as his poor shooting strategy. But, despite the lack of goals, Mikheyev has proved that he is worth the two-year contract Kyle Dubas gave him this offseason. He generates chances for himself and his teammates, he’s a great penalty killer and he’s one of the Leafs’ best forecheckers. He will be important for the Leafs come playoff time and I think the goals will start to come in bunches.

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