SERGACHEV HAS MUCH TO LEARN DESPITE FAST START TO NHL CAREER
The rookie was smiling. Under the circumstances, it was a strange sight.
After a Calder Trophy-worthy start to the season when he notched eight goals and 24 points in the first 38 games, Mikhail Sergachev of the Tampa Bay Lightning has been struggling to keep his head above water.
Heading into Monday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he had gone 21 straight games without a goal, is a minus-8 since Jan. 1 and recently spent a couple nights sitting in the press box.
At the moment, the former Windsor Spitfires defenceman has no reason to be happy. Then again, it’s hard to sulk when you’re playing on the best team in the NHL.
Traded from the Montreal Canadiens for forward Jonathan Drouin last summer, the ninthoverall pick in 2016 has no hard feelings toward his former team, which happens to possess the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference. Sergachev said he’s not trying to prove the Canadiens wrong for giving up on him. He believes the organization was right in moving him, even if there might be some doubters.
“They’ve got a great group of D,” Sergachev said of the Canadiens.
“They’ve got (Shea) Weber back and Jeff Petry has stepped up and he’s playing well. Victor Mete is a high-end player. Their team was kind of struggling and they couldn’t find a way to win and they were looking for that guy, looking for someone (like Drouin) to give them life. It’s all business. That’s all I can say. I’m pretty sure Drouin was happy, too, because he’s an important player on that team.”
It’s difficult to rate Sergachev’s importance to the Lightning, if only because the team has so many weapons at its disposal. Nikita Kucherov, who led the league in scoring heading into Monday night’s action, and Steven Stamkos (tied for fourth) are equally deserving of the Hart Trophy. Defenceman Victor Hedman was named the mid-season front-runner for the Norris Trophy by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is the early favourite for the Vezina Trophy.
Then there’s Sergachev, who is second among rookie defencemen in scoring, though 24 of his 29 points came in the first three months of the season.
“I haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Sergachev said. “Everybody wants to win a Cup so I want to win a Cup. That’s the biggest accomplishment.”
Sergachev isn’t likely to beat out Vancouver’s Brock Boeser or Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders for the Calder Trophy. He might not even be a finalist. But considering he has the same number of goals as Drouin with eight and one more point than the 22-year-old Montreal forward, he has provided Habs fans with more than enough ammunition to lob at Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin and his questionable trade history.
“Definitely a very talented player offensively,” Lightning defenceman Anton Stralman said of Sergachev.
Hedman said: “The way he moves and the way he can shift angles, (Ottawa’s) Erik (Karlsson) moves kind of the same way on the blue-line. He’s obviously a bigger body, but he moves really good out there. If he keeps developing, keeps getting better, he’s going to be really good for us.”
That being said, it’s been an up and down year for Sergachev, who is still learning how to control his emotions when things aren’t going his way.
Less than a month ago, the 19-year-old took a high-sticking penalty in a close game against the Chicago Blackhawks. He believed it was a bad call. And he let the referee know it. Sergachev shouted and swore and, after tossing a towel in the penalty box, was given another two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.
After the contest, head coach Jon Cooper levied more punishment by making Sergachev a healthy scratch for two games.
“He’s still learning,” said Cooper, pointing out Sergachev is only a teenager. “Has he got himself in trouble emotionally sometimes, got caught up in the game? He has. But I can say that about a lot of guys on our team. He just did it at a tough moment in the game. This season is all about a learning curve.”
What did Sergachev learn while watching games from up in the press box? Even the best players make mistakes. Not that you’d know it.
“Sometimes they don’t play well, but they don’t get pissed,” he said. “Maybe they do, but they don’t show that emotion. When you show everybody that you’re pissed, everybody is going to know it and the guys on the other team are going to make you pay and you’re going to take a penalty, like I did in Chicago. You can’t get frustrated in this league.”
Says the guy whose team has won the most games in the league.
Maple Leafs forward William Nylander celebrates one of his two goals Monday in a win over Tampa Bay in Toronto.
Lightning defenceman Mikhail Sergachev has Leo Komarov covered during Monday night’s game in Toronto.