Matvey Petrov has arguably been the biggest surprise among Oilers prospects, going from a sixth-round pick in the NHL Draft last summer to finishing ninth in OHL scoring with 90 points.
But the person ultimately responsible for drafting him hasn’t raised an eyebrow.
“That was the expectation that we had,” said Tyler Wright, director of amateur scouting and player development. “They were high expectations, but we knew the type of player that we were able to get a little bit later (in the draft).
“He had a tremendous year. He’s grown a lot off the ice. For the first year in North America, I don’t want to say it’s a surprise. The expectations were there – and he’s met them. ”
Petrov has met those expectations in every way possible.
He was integral in helping the North Bay Battalion to second place in the Eastern Conference. They open the playoffs Thursday against the Ottawa 67’s.
“He really is somebody that we could go on and on with all the things that he brings to our team on a daily basis,” Battalion coach Ryan Oulahen said.
Petrov has worked diligently on improving his English, starting with some work last season with the OHL team. He’s even gotten to the point where he’s acted as a translator to another Russian player on the team.
“What he’s done, the way he speaks the language now, he’s become a leader on our team,” Battalion GM Adam Dennis said.
And he’s fit in seamlessly with his family ticket, adapting to life off the ice in a new country.
“He’s just like one of our kids,” Petrov’s billet father Mike Beaulieu said.
It’s all amounted to a dream season, the reverse from a year ago.
“I’m very happy to be here and playing here,” Petrov said. “Playing in Canada has done me good. I’m learning and developing my skills. ”
Almost everything Petrov does, he does for a reason.
“He follows a triangle,” his bill mom Kelly Kerr Beaulieu said. “His three main disciplines are training, sleep and nutrition. That’s his focus. That’s what his Russian influences want him to practice. ”
His main influence is his father, Yuri, who sells hockey equipment. Petrov said he became hooked on the sport when he started watching it on TV as a 2-year-old. By the time he was 4, Yuri would drive him into Novosibirsk for hockey practice – where he’d steadily improve his skills while dreaming of becoming the next Pavel Datsyuk, his favorite player – and then head into work.
“We’d go back to home and just talk about my practice, and we’ll talk about his work – about hockey,” Petrov recalls. “It’s so interesting.”
Petrov is the second oldest of four children to Yuri and Irena, a stay-at-home mom. His brother Dmitry is 25, whereas his younger sisters Eva and Maria are 8 and 2, respectively. His family means the world to him.
But so does his goal of reaching the NHL.
He was advised that going to play in the CHL for the 2020-21 season would help his career and his draft stock, and was ultimately chosen first overall by the Battalion in the 2020 CHL Import Draft. He signed with the team a few days later, but didn’t get the chance to play for them because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Petrov instead returned to his Russia junior team, the MHK Krylia Sovetov Moskva of the MHL, and wound up playing the full season there. The OHL season was eventually canceled.
Though he put up 22 goals and 42 points in 58 games, Petrov longed for the chance to play in North Bay.
“If I played last season in the OHL, it would have been pretty good for me,” he said. “It wasn’t a very good season for me. A lot of problems. The team stuff was not very good. ”
“He was just excited to start in the OHL and show the hockey world what he’s all about,” Dennis said.
The Battalion wanted to make sure he was in the best position to hit the ground running. Oulahen set up weekly video chats with Petrov, which were designed to analyze his MHL shifts and teach him some of the Battalion’s systems. One of the first things Dennis noticed was his play away from the puck.
“He was backchecking like an animal,” Dennis said. “It was cool to see. He’s a very coachable kid who’s hungry to learn. ”
Oulahen embedded text into the video and sent it to Petrov before their scheduled time, so he could translate the messages into Russian in advance.
“He just explained everything about Battalion Hockey,” Petrov said. “That was so interesting to me and so beautiful.”
“I give him credit because he kept me busy through the pandemic, too, which was nice,” Oulahen said.
“What ended up happening is now I got the opportunity to really start off that relationship. I will always continue to do this now (with other import players). ”
Petrov has taken weekly English lessons since arriving in North Bay. The potential language barrier was a concern to his billet parents when they were approached by Dennis about taking in Petrov. Kelly and Mike had housed three players over the years but never an import player. They valued a family atmosphere and being able to communicate regularly with the players’ parents.
Though they had their reservations about accepting Petrov, they decided it would be a great cultural experience and were rewarded quickly as Petrov brought them Russian hockey paraphernalia to break the ice.
“I didn’t know what to expect. Being an educator, I thought we’ll just work on simple words, ”said Kelly, an educational assistant at an elementary school. “He knew his ultimate goal was to learn English.”
Petrov’s English isn’t perfect, but it’s so proficient that he helps translate conversations between Oulahen and the Battalion’s other Russian player, defender Alexander Lukin.
“It forced him to do a lot more talking rather than just listening,” Oulahen said. “It was very, very impressive how his English just took off from there.”
It’s also helped him develop a strong bond with his family ticket, which includes the couple’s 17-year-old daughter, Kennedy Kerr.
Petrov has adopted some of Kelly’s catchphrases, often heard on morning drives. Kelly drops Petrov off at the rink on her way to work, but not before a stop at Tim Hortons. Petrov’s go-to order is a farmer’s sausage wrap with either a French vanilla or a vanilla latte.
“He compliments my cooking, but he loves his Tim Hortons,” Kelly said.
Petrov and Kennedy race each other constantly. They have some of the same friends and Petrov jokingly tattles on her if she doesn’t follow a house rule like using the proper towels for the hot tub.
In fact, Petrov is a stickler for following the rules. One of Kelly’s basic no-nos is not allowing pop after 7 pm That’s been hard for Petrov to adhere to.
“He loves it so much. He’d probably drink it all the time, ”Mike said.
The one exemption to the rule is if Petrov scores a goal or gets two points. Considering Petrov has 40 goals and 90 points this season, there have been more than a few exceptions.
“We’re trying to keep him on that path,” Mike said. “Sometimes he’ll get a little lazy. We’ll just say, ‘C’mon, Matvey. Remember the triangle. ‘”
Petrov’s ticket family attend every Battalion game they can.
“When he gets a goal and they announce it, he always looks up to us because we have these big air horns,” Mike said.
Added Kelly: “He always knows it’s us.”
After a Battalion win, the players will raise their sticks to the crowd. Petrov always makes sure to wave at his Canadian family.
“It makes our heart smile,” Kelly said.
It’s making the Oilers smile, too.
Wright said Petrov had been on his radar for a couple seasons before the 2021 NHL Draft.
Petrov played out his draft year in Russia, away from many scouting directors who were subject to heavy travel restrictions amid the pandemic before vaccines. The winger then was merely average, in Wright’s estimation, at the under-18 world championship to close out the season. Petrov picked up an assist in four games.
That worked to the Oilers’ benefit, especially since they entered the draft without a second- and third-round pick.
“That was really a good thing for us because he slid, and we were able to get him where we were,” Wright said.
“When you’re a team that might not have some seconds and thirds because we’re in a position where we’re trading them, you’ve got to make sure that you hit on these late-round picks. Our guys did a good job. ”
The Athletic‘s Scott Wheeler listed Petrov as the Oilers’ seventh-best prospect in his January ranking. Wheeler believes Petrov would be chosen in the second round, not at No. 180, if the draft were held again.
Oulahen’s list of Petrov’s best skills is a long one. Oulahen said Petrov is deceptive, has excellent edgework and is strong on his skates with the puck on his stick – a remarkable trait considering he’s still trying to add muscle to his 6-foot-2, 181-pound frame. Petrov is also hard to contain, Oulahen said, especially down low, and is effective at getting his shot through to the net.
Top of the list is what Oulahen calls Petrov’s “hockey brain,” which he said is the best he’s seen in his 12 years of junior hockey coaching.
“He’s often one step ahead of everyone else,” the coach said. “Before he even gets the puck on his stick, he knows where it’s going, where it needs to go.
“That’s his biggest strength and one that will make him not only, I believe, an NHL player but an NHL star.”
That’s the plan. Kelly bought him an Oilers lunch kit to take to his English lessons and an inflatable Stanley Cup with the team’s logo on it.
“If you lose focus, here’s your Stanley Cup,” she told him.
“I will work hard on it,” Petrov said. “Like I really, really want to play in the NHL, because it’s my dream.”
It’s uncertain where Petrov will play next season. Normally, a 19-year-old signed player would have to return to the CHL if he doesn’t make an NHL roster. The Oilers have the option of sending Petrov to the AHL because he was drafted out of Russia, not the OHL.
But there’s a chance Petrov might not be welcome back to the CHL. A CHL spokesperson told The Athletic a decision has yet to be made on the status of Russian and Belarusian players for next season.
“I don’t know if I will play in the AHL next season,” Petrov said. “It (would be) just the next step to go to my dream. I just try to take advantage of the same (way) and like just work hard and play hard. ”
The Oilers plan to do what’s best for Petrov if both the Bakersfield and North Bay options are on the table.
“It’s purely a development play for him,” Wright said. “Ultimately, his play will dictate that.”
The Battalion would love to have him back if he’s allowed to return. He was an instrumental reason they’re back in the playoffs after finishing with the OHL’s worst record when the pandemic halted play in March 2020.
The Battalion finished third in the league and second in the Eastern Conference. They’re primed to advance past the second round for the first time since 2015.
“Chemistry’s been a huge part of our group,” Dennis said. “It’s a lot different feeling than in the past years.”
“The playoffs are an important time for us,” Petrov said. “We can beat anyone in this league, so we just try to win every game.”
There’s no doubt Petrov’s billet family would welcome him back with open arms, too.
It seems unfathomable now to Kelly and Mike that they were once hesitant to have Petrov live at their home simply because of potential communication issues.
“We don’t regret this decision at all. It was a big decision. It was a big risk. But it’s all panned out, ”Kelly said.
“I have amazing tickets,” Petrov said. “Every day I learn something new from them. I’m very happy. I always feel at home with them – like same home as in Russia. They always support me in everything and everywhere.
“I just want to say, like, thanks to them for this important time in my life.”
Kelly said she knows she’ll cry when Petrov is no longer living with them for another season, regardless of when that time comes. But she’s looking forward to that loss leading to new beginnings.
“We are pretty excited to make it out to Edmonton to watch Matvey play as an Oiler,” she said. “Matvey has a lifelong invitation to be part of our family.”
(Top photo: Terry Wilson / OHL Images)