Mikhail Sergachev to open season with Lightning
Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said he came to Lightning camp with the mentality he was going to make the team.
So it meant a lot for the 19-year-old Russian to find out he will at least start the season with Tampa Bay, which opens Friday against Florida.
"It's huge for me," Sergachev said. "I don't know what to say."
Sergachev, acquired in the June Jonathan Drouin trade with Montreal, has impressed teammates and coaches all preseason.
"He deserves it," captain Steven Stamkos said. "He's gotten better as camp has gone on. It's fun to see."
How long Sergachev stays remains to be seen, with the Lightning having until his 10th NHL game this season to send him back to juniors or have his entry-level contract kick in (putting him closer to free agency). If Sergachev plays 40 games, the Lightning won't get the conditional 2018 second-round pick from Montreal. GM Steve Yzerman said there's no rush with the decision. "It could be nine games, 10 games, 40 games," Yzerman said.
Sergachev opened last season with Montreal but was sent back to Windsor after playing just three games. He feels more comfortable and confident this time. It certainly feels like Sergachev is going to stick around longer this time.
"It's different this year," Sergachev said. "It's different people, a completely different organization. I wouldn't say it was easy to make the team, but they made it easy for me. My teammates and coaches and AHL coaches and staff. It's pretty easy to make it with them helping me."
Not only is Sergachev on the team, he's been consistently paired in the top-four with veteran Anton Stralman the past week, including Saturday's exhibition finale and Monday's practice. Tampa Bay has seemed to settle on its 23-man roster ahead of Tuesday's 5 p.m. deadline (with Cory Conacher put on waivers as the final cut).
Coach Jon Cooper wants to temper expectations for Sergachev, like any 19-year-old, but has loved how he's developed.
"He's ahead of the curve in where most players are at his age," Cooper said. "And I really like that if he makes a mistake, and we talk to him about it, he goes out and tries to fix it. He's been coachable, he's been a great fit for us.
"You can't sit here and throw expectations on the poor kid, he's 19-year-old. But he's put himself to be in position to be with our team right now and that's really good for him. It shows his talent level and how he's worked for it."
Stamkos points out how Sergachev certainly doesn't lack confidence, especially having poise with the puck in making plays. It looks like the Lightning is willing to let Sergachev play through some of the mistakes that come along with that style.
"His size, his strength, he can skate, he can shoot it," Cooper said. "You look at some of the mistakes he's made, he's not afraid, not afraid to pull the puck along the lines and at times it gets him in trouble, the speed of the game is a little bit different than juniors. But he's got the swag to try that stuff.
"You want that in guys, you want them to be able to say, 'I can do this.' Naturally you're going to get burned a few times, if it continues you have to sit him down, but I don't want to pull that away from the kid. I want to let the kid go and grow. But he's got to fall in line with our standards and our values and how we do things. And he's working at that, and that's what we really like about it. The kid's got talent."
And Cooper said he doesn't want to coach the "swag" out of Sergachev.
"That's the one thing about swag, you can do some things," Cooper said. "But you can't go on the side of stupidity and try to dangle through six guys, hold the puck on the line when three guys are coming at you. But he's got more aggressive in the zone, he goes into corners and competes. The last game guys were all over (goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy) and Sergachev was the first guy in there to push somebody out of the way. Usually you don't see that in a lot of young guys. It's great. He's been a good add to our back end."
The Lightning's 23-man roster will likely look like this:
Goalies: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Peter Budaj
Defensemen: Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Mikhail Sergachev, Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi, Slater Koekkoek, Andrej Sustr.
Forwards; Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Alex Killorn, Ryan Callahan, Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat, J.T. Brown, Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette, Gabriel Dumont.
Injured; Erik Condra, Michael Bournival.
Lines: Namestnikov-Stamkos-Kucherov/Killorn-Johnson-Callahan/Gourde-Point-Palat/Kunitz-Paquuette-Brown (Dumont).
Defensive pairs: Hedman-Dotchin/Sergachev-Stralman/Coburn-Girardi/Koekkoek-Sustr.