Even the small things aren't coming easy at the moment for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
According to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, Toronto's Ilya Mikheyev issued a trade request following last season, citing role and ice time as the primary reasons for pursuing a change of scenery ahead of a contract season. Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has reportedly put his foot down, however, relaying to the Mikheyev camp that the 26-year-old third-year forward is a key part of plans in 2021-22.
It's an interesting bit of information from Friedman for several reasons. Dubas has cultivated a strong working relationship over the last several seasons with Dan Milstein and his legion of Russian-based clients, including Mikheyev. It seems that relationship was made particularly solid after Dubas remained with Mikheyev in a New Jersey hospital when the forward suffered a very serious wrist laceration in his rookie season.
The Leafs have also given Mikheyev every opportunity to perform in the middle six, carving out more average ice time over the past two seasons than every forward aside from Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Zach Hyman and William Nylander, though he did slip to sixth among forwards in 2021-22.
Unsurprisingly based on the demand, Mikheyev did not take much of a step forward from his rookie season, at least as a scorer. He was mostly a third-line, checking contributor, struggling to provide a tangible impact from an offensive standpoint. In total, Mikheyev has provided 15 goals and 40 points in 93 games split across two pandemic-shortened seasons, while posting a woeful 7.3 percent shooting percentage. His inability to convert on opportunities is presumably the biggest reason Mikheyev is without the role he desires.
In line with the rest of the team, he's also struggled in the postseason, failing to register a point on 22 shots in 12 games.
No matter his limitations, Dubas's stance is understandable: Mikheyev is an important piece for the Leafs as a reliable forward with two-way impact. Hyman's departure left a massive void on the left side of Toronto's forward group, potentially creating an opportunity for Mikheyev to move up the lineup.
The Maple Leafs have since acquired wingers Michael Bunting and Nick Ritchie in free agency, but neither are locks to hold down permanent top-six gigs. Toronto could be Mikheyev's best option to build a resume before reaching unrestricted free agency next summer despite his desire — or previous want — to move on.
Mikheyev signed a two-year extension last offseason worth $1.645 million annually, which seemed to be something of an agreement made, in small part, in good faith after a 39-game sample in his rookie season.
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