Hockey is supposed to be an escape. A momentary world that you can slip into to forget about the real-world problems that you face on a day-to-day basis. Watching the world’s best athletes play the fastest game on ice during the season and anticipating each team’s move in the offseason.
Watching these seemingly superhuman athletes makes it easy to forget that they are just regular human beings as well—humans that have to deal with the same health problems everyone else deals with.
The NHL has seen its fair share of players go through terrible diagnoses. Cancer is a horrible disease that affects even the healthiest of people. Mario Lemieux, Phil Kessell and Saku Koivu are just a few players who had to undergo treatment for the disease before returning to play. More recently, we saw Oscar Lindblom of the Philadelphia Flyers return to the NHL after battling a rare form of bone cancer.
It is a situation that often grounds fans in the reality of the game. Yet, as terrible as these situations are, they are not a death sentence by any means. All the players mentioned above battled the disease and went on to have successful careers playing in the NHL.
So, with that hopeful sentiment in mind, let’s talk a little bit about Ivan Miroshnichenko.
Who Is Ivan Miroshnichenko?
Every single NHL draft has at least one Russian forward that possesses an insane amount of flash and skill that can dazzle teams. Miroshnichenko is the 2022 version of that player.
Standing at 6’1” and 185lbs there is no doubt that the powerful left-winger has the type of frame that could survive in the NHL. He hails from Ussuriysk, Russia and spent last season in the VHL playing for Omskie Krylia. Miroshnichenko put up 16 points in 31 games in his first pro season.
Those stats aren’t pretty by any means and it shows that there is some work for the Russian to do before he makes the next step. He does have a decent international record with strong showings at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and being a standout on Russia’s 2021 U18 team that won silver.
As you would expect from a Russian forward, the interest in Miroshnichenko comes in his wicked offensive talent. He has an incredible shot that beats goaltenders more often than not and a shot-first mentality that makes him an excellent finisher and one-timer option. This alone makes him a constant threat in the offensive zone and a potent powerplay option.
Despite the raw offensive skills, there are still some questions surrounding his game. While he does show some potential in being a reliable two-way player his ability to break down plays and anticipate the opponent's next move is lacking at the pro level. Miroshnichenko has also proven to be an inconsistent player when it comes to his compete level on a day-to-day basis.
The caveat with Miro is that he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in March. The initial thought was that he would miss the entirety of next season undergoing treatment, but that has changed. He was recently cleared to return to play and, considering the high survival rate among young people, there is good reason to expect a full recovery.
Let’s take a look at what the scouts are saying:
Sam Cosentino (Sportsnet): “Threat to score from the flank and middle of the ice. Quick and fast off the rush. Generally aware defensively. More detail required as he develops. Brings passion, skill and offence. His element is clearly his offensive upside.”
Corey Pronman (The Athletic): “He’s got good size and strength. He’s a strong skater. He’s highly skilled. He can make plays and he’s highly competitive. His shot is a bullet and can be a weapon from the flank on a pro power play. He can beat defenders with speed, he can put pucks through legs, he can create at even strength and on the power play. He has a bulky frame and can play a powerful style of game.”
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): “He’s got an athletic pro frame. He shoots it hard (both his wrister and his one-timer/off one-touch shots) from mid-range, giving him clear power-play upside. He’s a powerful skater through his edges and crossovers. He’s got good playmaking instincts. He’s a dexterous player who catches bad passes, manages to keep control when the play breaks down or the ice is choppy, and gets his stick on tips, etc. And he’s noticeably engaged shift to shift without the puck.”
Ben Kerr (LWOS): “If Miroshnichenko can return to playing hockey at a high level, he has the potential to be a first-line winger and big-time sniper.”
Miroshnichenko’s draft projection has been thrown all over the place due to his cancer diagnosis casting a wave of uncertainty. At the beginning of last season, he was a consensus top 15 pick that had a good chance to go in the top 10.
Since then he has fallen to around the mid-to-late 20s as teams worry about his immediate future. This makes him a little bit of a gamble given the uncertainty but one that could pay off big-time for a team picking late in the round.
There is a chance that the positive developments in his treatment could restore some of that higher draft stock but experts are still projecting him to be available in the later stages of the first round.
All in all, there is a good chance he is still on the board when Edmonton goes to the podium at pick #29.
Does He Fit?
Ivan Miroshnichenko is an interesting player. There is a lot to like about his offensive upside and his ability to get in the right position to let loose his shot is exactly the kind of compliment the Oilers need for their high-end playmakers. Yet, the Oilers' history with developing players like Miroshnichenko is grim at best.
I see a lot of Patrik Laine in his game in the way that he is a big physical player who can absolutely wire it past goaltenders but are prone to long slumps. If he can figure out how to be more consistent with his offensive game I am able to forgive him for not having the highest on-ice IQ.
The skill to be that top-line complimentary winger to Edmonton’s big guns is there. He has a fantastic shot, his skating seems to be at the right level and he has shown flashes of being a fierce forechecker. If he can sort out his game away from the puck he should be a dominant player.
Of course, his health does add a degree of uncertainty but considering he was recently cleared to return to play that should not play as big of a factor as once thought.
In the end, Miroshnichenko presents himself as the ultimate boom-or-bust type of pick in the first round. The payoff, if he hits, will be tremendous for a team who has been vying for the perfect complement to their big guns.