The young forward is working hard to consolidate his position in the KHL team’s roster.
18-year-old forward Mikhail Ilyin started the 2023/24 season as a full-time Kontinental Hockey League player. Andrei Kozyrev’s coaching staff have trust in Mikhail and it has been bearing fruit. Ilyin scored his first KHL goal in the third game of the season and had a total of 3 (1+2) points in four games. Almaz’s player Yegor Smirnov called Mikhail another Nikita Kucherov, who “performs such moves that the crowd is still on their feet applauding him.” Ilyin is in no hurry to think about participating in the KHL playoffs, but he is confident that Almaz is capable of competing for the Kharlamov Cup.
In an interview with the official JHL website, Mikhail Ilyin talked about the first team getting younger, being compared with Kucherov, his performance and future horizons of Almaz.
– How is the start of the season going?
– The coaches trust me, and I am doing my best to meet their expectations. Some things work out well, some things don’t, but team wins are of top importance for me, while personal results are secondary. There are games like the one against Sochi, when the team is simply struggling. We do have good chemistry in Severstal, the lines are basically the same as they were during the preseason. When you play a lot with the same linemates, you start to figure out where they like to go, it does help.
– Has the trust in young players increased after the new coaching staff joined the team?
– Yes, things are different this year. I did play some games in the 2022/23 season, but I wasn’t getting much ice time because of my age. Andrei Leonidovich Kozyrev puts his trust in young players, which is a big plus both for the team and for players’ development.
– Do you feel that your game has become more mature compared to your first season?
– Yes, everything comes with experience. I have already played adult hockey, so now some things are easier for me, for example, feeling the distance between myself and a defenseman. I gain more and more confidence game by game.
– You took your time with switching from a full cage to a visor because you had the feeling that the puck would certainly hit you into your face. How did the transition go?
– It takes some time to get used to wearing a visor. When I first switched to it, I kept thinking: “It’s strange that the puck doesn’t hit me in the face.” And then I got my lip split open during a practice early in the season and received some stiches. I’ve been hit in the face more often over the last little while, which is not great.
– You scored your first KHL goal in the game against Neftekhimik. Did your goal drought bring some pressure to bear?
– It goes without saying that I wanted to score a goal in the KHL, but I did not attach great importance to that. I just tried to contribute to the success of the team. My first goal was a big confidence boost, I felt that I am able to shoot and score.
– You dedicated your goal to your father. Tell us about his contribution to your development.
– My parents signed me up for hockey and they both were contributing to my development. My dad has passed away, so I decided to dedicate this goal to him. My father and mother were also sort of psychologists for me. They helped me in everything and never said a bad word after a bad game, even though there were guys on the team who were yelled at even after good games.
– After your first interview, you came to be called Gretzky of Cherepovets on JHL social media. Did any of your friends banter with you because of that?
– After the interview they kept talking about it and calling me Gretzky of Cherepovets, but it’s already forgotten. I haven’t heard any of such jokes in the first team since the start of the season. Maybe I will hear them later, when someone recalls the thing.
– Almaz’s 2022/23 top scorer Yegor Smirnov called you another Kucherov for your ability to make beautiful passes. How do you feel about this comparison?
– Many thanks to Yegor for such a comparison, it’s very nice. Of course, I don’t consider myself to be another Nikita Kucherov. Maybe to onlookers it appears that there is some likeness, but there’s still a long way for me to go to be able to play like Kucherov does. I don’t seek to be like anyone else, I just need to learn some best things from each player. For example, Ovechkin’s shot, Kucherov’s incredible vision and skills.
– Who can you compare Yegor with?
– He is a fast skater, just like McDavid (smiles). However, I would compare him with Auston Matthews, they have similar styles and are very good shooters.
– Do you think your chemistry can acquire continuation in the KHL?
– Yegor and I played well together back in those days when we were with the children’s school. Even then we knew where each of us liked to go, and this chemistry acquired continuation in the JHL. I think if we get a chance to play on the same line in the KHL, we will get to the point of feeling each other like we used to.
– If you could meet any person, past or present, who would it be and what would you ask him or her?
– Evgeni Malkin, I’ve liked him ever since I was a little kid. I would love to simply touch base with him.
– Were you happy to be selected by Pittsburgh Penguins at the NHL draft this summer?
– Of course, it feels great to be drafted by such a club. I would love to play with Malkin, but who knows if I will get a chance to do it... During the ceremony, I was in Almaz’s locker room and had a bad connection. Vitaly Pesterev and I were playing backgammon. We kept checking the website that published the information on the players picked, without any video clips. Vitalik told me: “Mark my words, Pittsburgh will select you.” David Karapetyan added: “In the fifth round.” Then we went outside, I scrolled through the list and saw myself drafted by Pittsburgh in the fifth round.
Ilyin Mikhail Evgenievich
Born on February 15, 2005 in Cherepovets
From 2013 – Severstal, Cherepovets