The 2023 version of our Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25 countdown list continues with an intriguing Russian prospect, something of a rarity in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ farm system.
#21 Mikhail Ilyin, F
2022 Ranking: n/a
Age: 18 (Feb. 15, 2005)
Acquired Via: 2023 NHL Draft (Round 5 - No. 142 overall)
Height/Weight: 6-foot, 181 pounds
Drafting Russian players in 2023 can be risky, given the geopolitical nature of the war in Ukraine. Nevertheless, Kyle Dubas and his staff selected forward Mikhail Ilyin in the fifth round during June’s festivities.
As Hooks noted in his draft write-up, Russia remains ineligible to play in international tournaments, so the scouting world doesn’t have a deep file or preview of Ilyin. However, Kyle Dubas has been active at taking Russian players during his time in Toronto, and this pick fits that thinking.
So, what kind of player is this scarcely-seen forward?
Ilyin is a player that possesses a great level of skill, at least compared to his Russian counterparts. To play in KHL games as a teenager is no small feat, even if the majority of his playing time came in Russia’s Junior Hockey League with Almaz Cherepovets.
The Penguins’ director of amateur scouting Nick Pryor had this to say about the young skater when recapping the team’s 2023 draft class.
“Mikhail we view as a really smart 200-foot center as well. Makes a lot of plays. Pass-first mindset, but he’s really diligent with and without the puck. I think he’s one of those guys that makes those around him better, makes his wingers better.”
Pavel Malyugin of RecruitScouting provides a more in-depth description of Ilyin’s game.
Ilyin has a North American skating style that doesn’t require too much repairing. But he also isn’t the quickest player. He doesn’t have anything pure skill-wise that makes him stand out. He does his job as a two-way player while remaining flashy (on an inconsistent basis) and he tries to engage in as much offensive work as possible. On the skills level, you’re getting what you expect out of a mid to later-round pick.
But he’s a really smart player. He pre-plans plays in his head and he’s always quick to be effective in any aspect. He kills penalties, he loves to cook on the powerplay, and he activates in transition. He knows the importance of a back check and a proper defensive structural workload, so it makes him a viable 200-foot player. He’s gained KHL and VHL experience because of how mature he is for his age. You don’t need Ilyin to be mega-skilled or super flashy, you need him to think and use his brain. That’s how he generates: he outsmarts opponents and paves the way for his teammates to succeed.
He has cold spots but even in those times of struggle, he still manages to create and be a great two-way player who takes on defensive reps. Ilyin is a player coaches will rely on in almost every aspect and that’s why I think he’s a viable player. If you want NHL promise, the best you can get out of the MHL is very possibly Mikhail Ilyin. Ilyin will dominate the KHL using his smarts, and I could see him being useful in the NHL for the same reasons.
Mikhail Ilyin is a playmaker, played most of the season in the relatively low scoring MHL, but played 21 KHL games as an 18 year old. Has great vision and raw ability, will need time to develop and flourish as a player. Good upside but could easily be nothing. (He's #11) pic.twitter.com/fqZkvDPwxk— waffles (@CAWafflez) June 29, 2023
EliteProspects carried a similar sentiment while preparing their 2023 Draft Guide.
Ilyin applies the details of the game well. The puck moves from his stick to the next play smoothly and precisely. He rarely forces plays, preferring to protect the puck with his physical skills and wait for support. He rotates well, offensively and defensively, rarely gives up on plays, drives inside to support teammates, and gets his stick on rebounding pucks.
Ilyin may not have one skill that stands out above the rest, but these excerpts all paint the same picture of this player being a solid passer who can see the game well for his young age. His frame may not be one of imposing force, but size isn’t the be-all-end-all in today’s NHL.
Like many mid- and late-round prospects of his ilk, Ilyin will need to add to his toolbox to stand out as a prospect.
With KHL action already under his belt, the Cherepovets native will look to earn more regular playing time in Russia’s top hockey league heading into 2023-24.
Whether or not he leaves Russia to adapt to the North American game is a story for another time.